What is a Gymanfa Ganu?

Here is a description of a Gymanfa Ganu given by an observant first-time gymanfa attendee:

"The Welsh are a nation of singers, and whenever two or three are gathered together they perform in harmony, rarely unison. Singing is a part of the culture....Welsh emigrants to America brought their vocal traditions with them, and even now, the Gymanfa Ganu (pronounced 'gih-MAHN-vuh GAH-nee' and translated as 'gathering for song') is a regular event in any community with a significant Welsh population.

The hymns are not simply sung through at a Gymanfa. The director may pick and choose among the verses; he may designate them for men's or woman's voices; he may order the organist to drop out so that something may be performed a cappella; he may repeat verses, either because they weren't sung enthusiastically enough the first time, or because he likes them and he feels like it. He decides what will be sung in English and what in Welsh. The director works the dynamic levels and the tempi, swelling the sound here, slowing the pace there.

The numbers sung were not all originally Welsh...but they were proudly out of touch with certain trends in modern hymnody....unlike most contemporary hymnals...the music does not patronize the congregation with low-lying melody lines and missing harmonies: If you sing soprano, you'd better have an F; if you don't have an F, you'd better be ready to sing another part. This has the agreeable effect of making the alto line an actual, singable alto line instead of a growly (for a woman) extra tenor part. It challenges the congregation instead of condescending, and it eliminates the boredom of singing all melody, all the time."

(By Sarah Bryan Miller)

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