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BBC Welsh hymn series celebrates 75 years

17 February 2017


On the wireless: the audience for Caniadaeth y Cysegr, Soar Presbyterian Chapel, Llanfechain, in October 1953

On the wireless: the audience for Caniadaeth y Cysegr, Soar Presbyterian Chapel, Llanfechain, in October 1953

THE BBC radio series of Welsh hymn-singing, Caniadaeth y Cysegr, is celebrating 75 years on air this month. It is broadcast on BBC Radio Cymru, on Sunday afternoons.

Caniadaeth y Cysegr was first aired on the BBC Home Service on 15 February 1942, Radio Times records suggest; the same year as Desert Island Discs.

It was presented by Idris Lewis, with the male choir Cantorion Llanelli, conducted by D. H. Lewis. Other radio programmes on that day included Marching Songs of Britain, and Sincerely Yours Vera Lynn. The 5 p.m. news bulletin, Newyddion, was presented in Welsh.

After the success of the radio programme, a hymn-singing TV series, Dechrau Canu Dechrau Canmol, was created by BBC Wales in January 1961. The format was adopted in English by the BBC in London, later that year, and led to the production of Songs of Praise.

The retiring Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said: “It’s good to know that Wales led the way, so far as broadcasting hymn-singing is concerned. Caniadaeth y Cysegr was almost 20 years old before Songs of Praise appeared, and the combination of great singing and a deep divinity has had a positive effect on the life of our nation.”

A former Head of Music at BBC Wales and organist, Huw Tregelles Williams, produced Caniadaeth y Cysegr during his early career at the BBC, and has presented some the programmes. “Caniadaeth y Cysegr has had a great influence over the years,” he said.

In a recent programme, the Welsh composer Richard Elfyn Jones compared the experience of congregational singing in Welsh and in English. “I have no doubt that the Welsh heritage excels somewhat, especially in the quality of the hymns, compared with the material from other nations, including in English,” he said.

But the current producer, Ceri Wyn Richards, warned that the tradition is in decline. “Although there are strongholds which respect the tradition, we’ve all got a duty — if we’re interested in the history of our hymn singing — to ensure the continuity of this important heritage.”

Caniadaeth y Cysegr is also online at bbc.co.uk/radiocymru and on BBC iPlayer Radio.

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