Fifties Reminiscences: Music at Dynevor

Before I even set foot in Dynevor, my mother, with great intensity, impressed upon me that Dynevor had an enviable musical reputation, and that I had jolly well better get immersed in it. With bated breath, she spoke of a legend by the name of Gwilym Roberts (music master) who attracted the likes of Kathleen Ferrier to sing at School concerts – wow! When I entered Dynevor, the aforementioned Gwilym had departed and “Spider” Webber occupied his stool. Under him, the School choir was a pretty select bunch who never seemed to do very much and the haughty and unapproachable Spider scared me to death (I got 10% in music in IC!). One day, he lordly unveiled in class one of his “own compositions”, which I subsequently discovered was by Orlando Gibbons. He attempted to get some boys (me included) into the newly formed St. Mary’s Church Choir (after its post-war restoration). “No way”, said my Dad, “it’s Church of England!” So much for ecumenism in those days.

What a splendid change therefore when the genial “Porky” Richards arrived – full of fun, good spirits, enthusiasm and inspiration (I was soon up to 70% in music!) and he could play the piano standing up. The choir expanded significantly to about 80 boys and sundry masters, notably Ossie (a very fine basso profundo), Derek John (who later escaped to Nigeria) and Tojo, Huw (“Fuzz”) Lloyd and Bryn Cox – a very sincere and agreeable tenor with plenty of agitato, but with a tendency to excessive rallentando – which caused Porky frequent consternation. The boys were a combination of eager young trebles – some of whom were really very good (Ambrose Thomas and Wynford Evans regularly performed even then with the BBC), boys with rather gravelly unpredictable possibilities owing to impending puberty (mine broke when I was about ten and a half) and lusty fourth formers and above, to whom any dynamic imposed by Porky which was less than treble forte, was regarded as an insult to their virility. Alan Goodwin, Ivor John and I just did not do pianissimo (my wife reckons it’s still beyond me). Tony Pierce must be honourably excluded from this battalion of decibel-bashers, revealing a sensitivity and finesse well becoming of a future bishop.

Porky made it all such good invigorating fun and introduced us to a whole treasure chest of semiquavers : to the Messiah, of course (“And the glory of the Lord” I can still hear echoing around the Yard); “The Heavens are Telling” (definitely a can belto job); his arrangements of Welsh hymns; “Childhood of Christ”; and Elgar’s “Banner of St. George”, a very stirring patriotic contribution (but of the English nation), Plaid Cymru would certainly have boycotted it, and Arwel Hughes Dewi Sant” had not yet been composed! All great stuff, which lingers long in the mind and soul.

We had some remarkable accompanists, too. At the organ were luminaries like Ivor Owen (the Borough Organist); Arthur E. Davies (who presided at the keys at Mount Pleasant); the swaying Myrddin Harries (how he never fell off the organ stool, I’ll never know); and, best of the lot, the prodigy Alan Rees, who went on to great things as an ecclesiastical musician in the Catholic persuasion. Philip Croot was an amazing pianist, and Peter James’ rendering on the double bass of the Elephant movement from Saint Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals” has an honoured place in my musical memories. The orchestra was really jolly good, led with great suavity by the urbane Morgan Lloyd (another denizen of the BBC, of course), and, I recall also included, Michael Griffiths (later to join the staff) on the French horn, Chris Edwards on the violin – and Peter James.

Our venues were principally Ebenezer Chapel and the Brangwyn Hall (even sang a bass solo there once – terrifying experience), in the absence of a School Hall, owing to the dedicated activities of Air Marshal Goering. Fine venues they were. Budgie’s Lower Gym was used for Eisteddfodau (to his evident profound unease).

For some reason, Dynevor did not go in for dramatic endeavours in my day (other than the unofficial initiatives undertaken by Dave Tovey, myself and others – see “Old Dy’vorian ….). Bishop Gore, it has to be conceded, was very good indeed in this domain (but then Dylan Thomas was an old boy).

It was all such a sheer joy from first to last, and a wonderful overture to my subsequent musical activities down the decades and, I’m sure, hundreds of other Old Dy’vorians.

As Porky insisted, music really does uplift the soul. No doubt even as I write, he is doing something memorable with the celestial choir (St. Cecilia, St. David and St. Peter – move over) and no doubt Bryn Cox’s excessive rallentandos have been sorted out to general heavenly satisfaction!