‘For the Love of …….MUSIC’

Most of the people reading the following article will not know the name Idris Griffiths, let alone associate the name with music.

I was fortunate enough to know him within our family gatherings, see him work and hear him play the organ.

This is my tribute and a profile of a man born and younger days spent in Rose Cottages, Resolven.

Idris Griffiths  L.R.A.M.  A.R.C.O.

The small village of Resolven in the Vale of Neath, like many other quiet rural valley communities has produced many gifted, talented and interesting people.

During the lifetime of Resolven’s three Doctors of Music, David Evans, Tom Hopkin Evans and William Rhys Herbert,  Idris Griffiths was the first of four children born to Ann and Rees Griffiths on the 23 November 1905 at Rose Cottages and weighed 12½ lbs. Quite a birth for a lady who was about 5ft 1in (1.54m) tall. Rose Cottages (see below) can still be seen on the left hand side as you enter Resolven village from the A465 dual carriageway on the northern side of the village.

Rees Griffiths was a miner and Ann had been ‘in service’ in a large house locally.

Their son showed an early interest in music and had piano and organ lessons from Mr Seymour Perrot and Dr Vaughan Thomas who Idris said were extremely strict with him.

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Huw Edwards

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Who’d have thought that later in his life Idris would be teaching Mr Huw Edwards, presently newscaster for the BBC. And Huw would be writing about Idris in his book.

(More later in this article)

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Idris attended school in the small village of Resolven when the family’s spiritual home was Jerusalem Chapel, Neath Road, at a time when the chapels and churches were at the heart of the community, packed to capacity at every opportunity.

Jerusalem Chapel

The three Doctors of Music had been highly involved in the local religious environment and if you didn’t ‘make it’ in the religious musical field such as the regularly held ‘Cymanfa Ganu’ then you wouldn’t get known.

The young Idris Griffiths must have been greatly influenced or maybe overshadowed by the three musicians who studied, wrote and played music whilst working shifts underground in the local coal mine.

At that time it was expected that every male of working age would work ‘down the pit’ to support the family, therefore Idris started work ‘down the pit’ when he was 15 years of age and like the previously mentioned musicians, he studied music in his spare time mainly through correspondence courses obtaining his L.R.A.M. (Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music) at the age of 20.

Idris’ son Philip recalls a strange incident told to him by his father when the hand of fate was certainly raised on a day that his father would remember for the rest of his life.  

It happened when a workman, a fellow haulage driver, on the other shift asked Idris if he would be willing to change shift with him so that he could attend an event. Idris obliged but found out very soon after the end of that shift that the man had been killed by the haulage rope snapping. This accident must have given the young Idris many mixed and grateful emotions. We have been told that he never went down the pit again (this is not confirmed however).

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At this very young age he learned the names of all the famous film actresses and actors of the time when he played the piano at the village cinema accompanying the silent films.

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A former member of that Choir, originally from Melincourt, Mr Joe Cookson, recalls the following in his writing {These quotes are from a letter to Mr Griffiths from Mr W. T. (Bill) Downing dated 19 November 1985 who was then Secretary of The Resolven History Society} :-

“…….During the 1926 strike, the Melyncourt Male Voice Choir came into being, and as we had always been very fond of singing, my three friends and I, Will, Albert and Dick, were present at the first practice at the Old Chapel at Melyncourt, that overlooks the beautiful waterfall there, under the conductorship of Idris Griffiths, an eighteen year old L.R.A.M. who lived in the adjoining village of Resolven………”  Idris was 21 but must have looked 18 at the time.

He carries on :-

“…..It was in 1931 that seven coachloads, full of music lovers from Melyncourt and Resolven, left for Porth, where Melyncourt Male Voice Choir were to take part in an Eisteddfod. Some of the entire families had gone from the village leaving it empty and desolate. They travelled the longest way round to the Rhondda Valley…………for some of the families were making the event a real holiday…..”

The Choir was to sing ‘Martyrs of the Arena’, Freddie Jones being the tenor soloist, of course, no microphones were used for the soloist at that time.

Mr Cookson continues:-

“…..Freddie was a beautiful tenor but very light, and that was the Melyncourt Conductor’s fear, could Freddie produce enough sound so as to reach the furthermost corner of the great hall…..”

“…the Melyncourt Choir gave a masterly rendering….”

The competition involved many Welsh choirs and the young Melincourt Choir came a very close second to the Pendyrus Male Choir, Tylorstown who in effect were singing on home ground.

Idris composed a memorable and popular Hymn tune, which has been sung many times in many Chapels. The tune called ‘Melincwrt’ starts in a melancholy minor key changing to a triumphant major key for the last two lines.

This photograph is of a stage production (probably associated with a Chapel) performed in Resolven in the early 1930’s with Idris Griffiths as the Musical Director. {Nothing to do with the Resolven Amateur Operatic Society which was formed in 1925 and performed its first production in February 1926 but did not perform another until 1939 when it was renamed the Resolven & District Amateur Operatic Society.}

All the previously mentioned musical organisations/choirs had their roots in the chapels of the area and good conductors and organists were keenly sought after. Mr Griffiths’ name was well known even at such a young age and he was asked to be Choirmaster and Organist in The Bethania Chapel, Treorchy.

During his time there, on the 10 June 1935 Idris Griffiths was the guest accompanist for Treorchy Male Voice Choir at the Llanelli Eisteddfod when they pushed the Pendyrus choir into second place. It is said that the victorious choir members carried Idris and W.D. Evans shoulder high after the announcement of their win.

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This is a copy of a letter of appreciation sent to Idris after one of his Organ Recitals in 1939.

The family home at that time was in Neath Road, Tonna, Nr Neath.

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He was also an accompanist with the BBC for 10 years up to the start of World War II, working with world renowned soloists such as Sir Geraint Evans, Dame Eva Turner, Kathleen Ferrier, Joan Hammond, Heddle Nash, Edith Coates, David Franklin, etc.

In 1939 Idris had a move to Llanelli which was reported in the press as – “Rhondda musical circles will shortly suffer a severe loss by the departure of Mr Idris Griffiths from Treorchy to Llanelly, where he has been appointed Organist and Choirmaster of Tabernacle Welsh Congregational Church.

For the past eleven years, Mr Griffiths has held a similar post at Bethania Welsh Congregational Church, Treorchy. He will now be in charge of the music at one of the most influential churches in the denomination, for Tabernacle, Llanelly, has close on 1,000 members….”   “…He has been asked to conduct the next Liverpool Festival. On one occasion, he conducted a congregation of 12,000 at a community hymn singing festival organised by the South Wales Echo on the Maindy mountain, Ton Pentre.”

More on his time at Tabernacle Church from Huw Edwards later where Idris organised an annual music festival and attracted the aforementioned famous artists and many, many more to perform in Llanelli.

More on his time at Tabernacle Church from Huw Edwards later where Idris organised an annual music festival and attracted the aforementioned famous artists and many, many more to perform in Llanelli.

The Griffiths’ were a close family so when Idris’ father, Rees had died at the age of 49 and Idris’ sister Sarah (Sal) also had passed away in 1938 at the age of 30, a little later Ann suggested that her sons Idris and Glyn get away for a holiday in Bournemouth, leaving their surviving sister Blodwen behind. They had strict instructions to look up Gwenllian Rees from Ty’n y Cwm Farm, Resolven.

Idris and Glyn did spend a few very pleasant hours with her,  Idris being so taken with Gwenllian that he arranged to meet her on his own a couple of evenings later. Gwenllian was private nursing at a large hotel at the time and she was to meet Idris the night which coincided with the first blackout of WW II.

After helping to hang blackout curtains at the hotel she was over an hour late at the appointed place but Idris was still waiting.

After helping to hang blackout curtains at the hotel she was over an hour late at the appointed place but Idris was still waiting.

Later that evening Idris asked Gwenllian to become his wife. Of course, she said ‘Yes!’

On 15 March 1941, 18 years after she was a member of Resolven Juvenile Choir under Idris’ leadership, he married Gwenllian Hannah Rees at Jerusalem Chapel, Neath Road, Resolven. Gwenllian was the daughter of William and Margaret Ann Rees, Ty’n y Cwm Farm, she had three sisters, Margaret, Anne, Eunice and a brother William John.

The Minister was the Rev. Lynn T. Walters.

Idris and Gwen lived in ‘rooms’ in Llanelli until they were able to rent a house. Daughter Marian was born in 1942 and son Philip in 1945.

Using his musical talent, he worked every hour he could, teaching piano, organ and giving vocal training as well as travelling around Wales conducting and giving many organ recitals.

He became Head of the Music Department at Llanelli Girls Grammar School where he taught for 23 years taking charge of many stage productions,  whilst conducting, being an organist and accompanist at many venues and taking private pupils at home.

Soon after arriving at the school it was reported in the press that after the reputation of his previous excellent work with the Tabernacle Choral Society festival, he was “…..creating a similar impression at the Girls Grammar School…..”. He held a two night Christmas concert “….when there were crowded audiences, the outstanding features being excerpts from Handel’s “Messiah”. For Llanelly it was a somewhat unique, if not a daring experiment, especially as implicit reliance was placed upon the scholars”(school pupils), “not only for the choruses, but also for the recits. and arias.  From experience it can now be said wisdom was exercised, as the young soloists who possessed voices of exceptionally good quality,….” “…it would have been a mistake to have enlisted the services of adults for these tasks.” 

It must have been difficult for Idris to train the pupils to sing to such a standard after being at the school for only a limited time.

As well as the school musical events there are many press reports of his involvement with the YWCA Choir, the Presbyterian Youth Choir,  the Llanelly Town Choir, the Llanelly Choral Society especially their radio broadcast from Zion Baptist Chapel on 20th of October 1949.  Productions in 1948 included such musical works as ‘The Death of Minnehaha'(S. Coleridge-Taylor), ‘Hiawatha’, etc.

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As previously mentioned one of his child pupils was Huw Edwards,  anchor of BBC Network and World News who at that time was living with his parents in Llangennech, near Llanelli. Huw mentions Idris Griffiths a number of times in his book ‘Capeli Llanelli: our rich heritage‘ published in 2009 and has mentioned him in several press articles over the years. The book is part Welsh and part English.

In his communication with me he confirmed that “…I was taught piano by the wonderful Idris Griffiths at his home ‘Glandwr’ and I visited there on a weekly basis until I left Llanelli Boys’ Grammar for Cardiff University …”  “…He was an excellent pianist and accompanist and a really exceptional organist. His proudest possession was probably a briefcase (on display at his home) – a gift from the world-famous English singer Kathleen Ferrier who frequently requested Idris as accompanist on her visits to South Wales.”

Idris Griffiths had been organist and choirmaster at Lloyd Street, Llanelli and Huw became the organist there in 1976 at the age of 15 and we understand that he was welcomed by the secretary and ‘codwr canu’ who were surprised at seeing him wearing a denim suit in a chapel.

Huw tells us the reason for Idris leaving Tabernacle Chapel and arriving at Lloyd Street.

As written in the aforementioned book, the story starts when Evan Gwyndaf Evans arrives at Tabernacle on 13 March 1938.

Huw states “Here was another son of North Wales…who impressed the people of the South with his lucid and thoughtful preaching, Gwyndaf would spend almost 20 years in Llanelli, ….” “…He was a young minister when the Second World War erupted, and his uncompromising pacifism offended some of the members, including a few of the deacons. They confronted him and tried to get him to soften his line.   He refused.”

“There was an unfortunate clash between him and the famous organist Idris Griffiths, one of Wales’ most prominent musicians at the time. Some felt that Gwyndaf could not stomach the popularity of his musical director.  It was worrying for the members that Idris would not be able to conduct at one of the annual concerts because of illness……”  “…his friend Dr Haydn Morris, Capel Als had agreed to take his place. When Idris turned up unexpectedly at the last minute to conduct the Messiah, the congregation exploded with applause and the stamping of feet! Gwyndaf was sitting in the gallery amongst the audience. Apparently he lost his temper completely and afterwards accused the organisers – including Idris – of turning the chapel into a ‘playing field’ and a ‘cave of thieves’. Within a short time, in 1948, Idris and his supporters escaped to Lloyd Street.”

“…..Lloyd Street benefited from this as Idris’ contribution to the congregational singing and a new ‘energy’ was felt in the Ysgol Gan.” (Singing School) “ A gymanfa ganu was recorded there in the ’60’s and all the records were sold in the Llanelli shops.”

In a recent communication with Idris’ son, and after listening to the recording, Huw Edwards states that he thinks the tempo and quality of the singing is superb with the four voices very clearly heard.

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Llanelly Girls Grammar School

He was very much sought after as a conductor of  Welsh Religious Singing Festivals – Cymanfaoedd Canu throughout Wales and London, he must have conducted close to one thousand of them in his lifetime. A number of them at Jerusalem Chapel, Neath Road, Resolven.

This picture shows the programme cover of one of his memorable visits to his old home village and chapel.

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When he died at the age of 81 he was still teaching.  Lengthy obituaries were published stating that on the 13 July 1987 “…..At his funeral service, held at Capel Als, Llanelli, five ministers queued to tell a crowded congregation of his exceptional skills in bringing music to people and his kindly generous nature….”   “….But teaching was not enough, and, as his early life was sprinkled with the names of choirs he had led – Resolven Children’s Choir, Melyncourt Choir, Treorchy Choir, so too, at Llanelli…”  “….Town Choir, The Presbyterian Youth Choir and then 26 years with the YWCA Choir.”

They spoke of his skill as an adjudicator at festivals and eisteddfodau.

“…His life was music, his talent freely given to all who asked. He conducted at Westminster Chapel and the Albert Hall…”  “….he did not covet the fame which could so easily have been his outside Wales, his passing can truly be said to be like a rock falling from the hills which can never be replaced.”


Idris Griffiths {1905 – 1987}

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Presentation by his nephew Hugh Lewis

Acknowledgements:-

Excerpts taken from the book ‘Capeli Llanelli: our rich heritage’ by Huw Edwards

{Translation by Griff Williams, Pontarddulais}

Information also supplied by Idris’ daughter Marian & son Philip

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Notes:-

Mr Griffiths was in such demand as a music teacher that he did not have the time to teach his daughter and son music although they heard music constantly at home, therefore it seems that a musical generation was missed.

In later life when he had a little more time he loved to teach his grandson and granddaughter music face to face and when at different locations he used to listen to them playing their instruments over the ‘phone and correct them when necessary. They went on to study at The Wells Cathedral School, an internationally renowned music faculty.

Idris Griffiths was meticulous in everything he did, in fact when a farmer who had very little available cash used to pay for his music lessons by giving him an occasional chicken he declared the equivalent monetary value of that chicken, on his annual tax return.

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His daughter and son, Marian & Philip still organise extended family gatherings annually around the time of year of Idris’ beloved wife Gwenllian’s birthday, bringing together family members from all over England and Wales who share their memories of past times.

This get-together normally held in Llandeilo, brings together family members who look forward to the occasion as in these busy times family get-togethers have become all too rare unless it is for a wedding or sadly, a funeral.

(Gwen passed away on the 5 August 2015, three months before her 105th birthday.

Idris and Gwenllian Hannah are together in the family grave at Melincourt Chapel Cemetery).

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It has been a privilege and joy for me to research and prepare this piece, as Uncle Idris was a special man who used his exceptional talent for the benefit and enjoyment of others. Remembering his family visits to our home in Resolven with a fond feeling of nostalgia, recollecting seeing him ‘perform’ in ‘the Cymanfa’ and being aware of his quite unique talent.

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