A look ahead to the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod
PUBLISHED: 12:25 05 July 2016 | UPDATED: 12:25 05 July 2016
The Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod returns for its 70th year. Rebekka O'Grady looks behind the scenes of this unique song and dance festival.
It’s hard to believe but the small town of Llangollen can claim that Pavarotti started his career there. The Italian opera singer had his first taste of international fame at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, when he visited with his father in 1955 as part of the Chorus Rossini from Modena. The group won the Male Choir competition and Pavarotti returned to the festival 40 years later to perform a concert, recognising that this was the place he decided to go professional.
Pavarotti isn’t the only one to have a special connection with this annual song and dance festival, taking place this year between July 5th and 10th For the past 70 years, thousands of visitors and competitors have been returning to the town to take part in the Eisteddfod, which began in 1947 as a way of healing worldwide wounds following the end of the Second World War. That spirit of peace and love still remains a core element of the festival today, which features competitors and musicians from not only around the UK, but from around the world.
This year’s festival has something for all interests. From a special ceremony to mark the site of the first ever Eisteddfod in 1947 on the Ysgol Dinas Bran grounds on the launch day to the annual parade, led by Eisteddfod patron Terry Waite, taking place on the Friday 8th to involve even more of the competitors, there’s plenty to see and do.
The headline acts this year include mezzo soprano Katherine Jenkins, New York tenor Noah Stewart and Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. One thing not to miss is the Saturday (9th) which is dedicated to the top choirs and concludes with the prestigious Choir of the World competition for the Pavarotti Trophy.
With only six paid roles, the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod relies on a huge number of dedicated volunteers to pull together the festival year after year. We went to meet a few of the people who make it happen…
Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod takes place between July 5 – 10. For tickets and more details, visit www.international-eisteddfod.co.uk
Siting officer and farmer
I’ve been involved in the Eisteddfod for 44 years now. The festival had a good association with my primary school so at the age of 11, I was there setting out chairs, selling programmes, before becoming an usher and then a steward. When I turned 18, I joined the grounds committee, which is responsible for setting up the site, caterers etc before becoming siting officer 25 years ago.
The Eisteddfod just gets under your skin; I think I’ve only missed one year out of the 44. It’s completely different to what I do every day, so it uses another part of my brain. It’s nice to hear the traders come back and say it’s a really friendly, nice site. And it’s true; the Eisteddfod is a family feel-good event. It would leave a huge hole in my heart if it stopped.
To have such big names in this little town is incredible. From Pavarotti to Status Quo, when they come to Llangollen, they love it.
Vice-chair of finance committee and volunteer co-ordinator
This year there are around 800 volunteers at the Eisteddfod. The committee makes up around 500 and then 300 are people that come up to Llangollen just to help with the festival. We started a new initiative last year to try to engage new volunteers, as well as continuing to engage our current volunteers, which is important. There’s a perception that the Eisteddfod is a closed shop, but it’s really not and it’s a great thing to get involved in.
As a largely volunteer-run organisation, planning the Eisteddfod is a year-round thing and we need volunteers who are willing to be fully involved. We would like some new people to be able to shadow key roles and understand what they are about and how they contribute to the festival, so they can then be trained up and be involved.
If you would like to hear more about volunteering, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Chair of Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod
I first came to the Eisteddfod as a babe! Over the years I did volunteering, things such as stewarding etc. I then went to university to train as a doctor and my job took me away from the area for some years, before returning to Llangollen as a senior partner at the local GP practice. Back here, I resumed my association with the Eisteddfod, becoming a season ticket holder and also providing medical cover at the festival for a long time. I was never involved with the board until last year when they asked me to become chairman.
First, I wondered why me? But then I thought it’s an honour to think someone considered I could do it. The Eisteddfod is in its 70th year, and this is my 61st. I would certainly like to see it get to its 80th or 90th year, but it needs to capture the hearts of a new generation.
I’ve seen some improvement in running the whole occasion, there’s new cohesion and ideas that are in place and required to develop the Eisteddfod. We need to keep the unique and core meaning of what the festival is about, the combination of competition, performance, and international peace and friendship, but we need some new elements too.
Vice-chair and tickets chair
My father has been to every festival, and brought me here when I was four years old. I was a gofer running around with messages! Most of my volunteering history has been in the ticket committee. I was encouraged to come back to help with Eisteddfod after a road traffic accident and I have been here ever since. I have been tickets chair for 12 years and last year I was asked to become vice-chair of the Eisteddfod – it’s a bit daunting but I was very happy and am enjoying the challenge.
Each year I still get the buzz, the town just comes alive when it’s on. Nine times out of ten everyone is happy, even if it’s raining! It’s infectious, everyone just comes together. It’s more of an emotional thing which is hard to explain as it’s been a part of our lives for so long.
Competitors’ Liaison Officer
My first taste of the Eisteddfod was when I competed here in the school choir. I then became a volunteer at 17 before becoming a dance teacher – and of course I brought the students here to see dance from all over the world. The Eisteddfod has a passion that stays with you.
I have been in my current role for six years. First of all I was looking after the UK groups and competitors, but I now look after our overseas visitors. This year we have 37 international groups of competitors coming to the Eisteddfod, so my role involves sorting out when they are arriving and departing, airport transfers and then they daily transfers from hotels or homestays to the Eisteddfod. It certainly gets busy as the year goes on!
There’s a huge array of volunteers that come together and help. An initiative we are looking into is finding whole villages and towns within a one hour vicinity that could cope with homestays – we really want to involve the community more. One idea we had was if competitors stayed in a village, we would then set up a concert as a thank you. It’s more difficult for our child competitors as they cannot take part in homestays, so we have a few private schools and universities that allow them to stay there during the festival.