Cantorian Y Gelli, a mixed voice choir from Hay-on-Wye came second in this year’s National Eisteddfod Learners’ Choir competition in Pwllheli earlier this month.
The competition, won by Cor Cambria, required participating choirs to have a maximum of 25% first language Welsh speakers with the rest being learners of the Welsh language.
Choirs could sing any song or combination of songs of their choice, in any style, up to five minutes.
Catherine Hughes, a member of Cantorian Y Gelli, which has only been running for 18 months, told the Brecon & Radnor Express: “It was brilliant.
“We got onto the main stage which is really what you want because they do the prelims in the morning to see what you’re like and if they like you, they put you on the main stage, so that was pretty phenomenal.
“We were all a bit made up thinking ‘wow this is fantastic’ and we all came away a bit more Welsh, which is what the whole thing is about.
“The whole festival is in Welsh, so it makes people really value the language and they put on such an amazing festival with such talent.”
When asked about how the group felt finishing second, Catherine said: “I think we thought we should have come first!
“But next year we’ll be aiming for first place because now we understand the process a bit more.
“It’s given everyone a real boost and made us feel like we in Hay properly belong in Wales.
The choir only started in January 2022 and Gemma Woolsford who founded the choir wanted it to be a low key and fun activity to learn some Welsh songs, but Catherine says that has now gone out the window, she said: “That’s how these things start, it was just a bit of fun and 18 months later we’re performing at the National Eisteddfod, so we’re feeling quite proud of ourselves!
“There’s one man in the choir and he said that since he was a small boy it’s been an ambition of his to be in a Welsh singing choir and he’s probably in his 70’s now so it’s just lovely.”
Jane Dodds MS, who was in attendance at the Eisteddfod said: "I was present in the Eisteddfod to hear Cantorian y Gelli in their competition, and was so proud to hear a Welsh learners choir from Brecon and Radnorshire singing on the Eisteddfod stage.
"The standard of performance across the competition was very high and for them to come second, is a significant achievement."
The Choir from Hay sang Calon Lan at the competition and have already got their eyes on next year’s Eisteddfod in Pontypridd.
Catherine said: “We’re now getting ready for the next one and we are hoping we can get a bit more involved this time.
“We thought it might be humiliating this time around being amongst people who have performed their before and can speak Welsh fluently, but I think we have the confidence now to compete next year and be more adventurous to compete in more things.”
Catherine and many others believe Hay-on-Wye has a non-Welsh reputation being a town on the border of Wales and England, although she believes this is changing. She said: “You’ve got tourists coming to Hay and saying, ‘are we in England or Wales?’ Because it’s one of those border towns where people are never sure.
“It is getting more Welsh; things are changing, and I think more people from this generation are understanding the importance of the Welsh language and what defines it really; we’re so lucky to be in Wales.
“The Welsh language needs protecting and encouraging.
“A lot of us, including me, go to the Three Tuns pub in Hay and Hayden Jones, who is in the choir, teaches Welsh at the pub.
“Hay is becoming more and more Welsh through some key people that live in Hay which is great.
“Everybody feels quite proud of that because it’s not spoken much in Hay, so for us to go to an all-Welsh festival and finish second was brilliant.
“If anyone wants to join a choir or learn Welsh, Hay is the place to be at the moment!”