Sunday, 22 June 2008, Bryn Seion Welsh Church in Beavercreek, Oregon held its 73rd Gymanfa Ganu.A Gymanfa Ganu (guh-MAN-va GA-nee), is a Welsh "sing gathering" performing hymns in Welsh, sung in four-part harmony by all the attendees, under the direction of a choral director. Welsh communities in countries all over the world hold their own Gymanfa Ganu. In the US, a national Gymanfa Ganu is held by the Welsh National Gymanfa Ganu Association (WNGGA).
In the United States, the Gymanfa Ganu was a way for many Welsh Americans to hold and share their cultural heritage, preserve their language in a majority-English speaking country and unite their communities. It's still that today, a means of coming together to celebrate and enjoy being Welsh.
Bryn Seion is the oldest Welsh church on the west coast, delivering services in its community for more than 100 years. Welsh immigrants to the Portland area settled in the fertile farm community of Beavercreek, sent for friends and family to join them and then wanted a church of their own to conduct services and to sing as a community. In 1884, Bryn Seion Welsh Church was built by that community, on land donated by one of its members.
The Gymanfa leader and soloists stand at the podium, under Welsh and American flags. Next to the podium sits and Eistedfodd chair inscribed, "Eistedfodd, Talaeth Wash. 1890". Reasearch is still being done into the origins of this chair but so far the story seems to be that a member of a Welsh church in Washington state won this chair, then gave it to a family member who was a parishioner of Bryn Seion, who then made a gift of the chair to the church.
The Eisteddfod is a traditional Welsh festival of poetry, music and dance, held in Wales and all over the world. Chairs like this were traditionally given as prizes.
Attendees at the Bryn Seion Gymanfa Ganu come from all over the state of Oregon, from other states and other countries. Gymanfa Director Tim Dyck and the attendees were accompanied by Harpist Annette Pritchard and Organist Beverly Ratajak. The participants sit in the church's pews to sing from hymn books in English and Welsh. Whether you know Welsh or not, there's an invigorating, quiet beauty in holding those lyrics in your hands and singing them with a group of people just like you, all there for the same purpose: to revel in being Welsh, to whatever degree, for the moment. And to hear beautiful song in Welsh.
If you're interested in finding a Gymanfa Ganu in your area, see the WNGGA site link, above. That site also has links to purchase hymn books in Welsh-English and an edition with the Welsh lyrics rendered phonetically.
Bryn Seion's Gymanfa Ganu is held every fourth Sunday in June, at the church's address on Kamrath Road in Beavercreek, near the intersections of Cymry Lane and Swansea Lane. The first day's service and singing are at 11:00 AM, the second at 2:00 PM which is followed by a te bach ("small tea"), then the third at 6:00 PM. Singing is in English and Welsh, no experience necessary, only enthusiasm. All are welcome.