So I spent the day in Hay-on-Wye, at #HowTheLightGetsIn, a music and philosophy festival in a tiny town on the border of England and Wales. My brain feels rather full, to be honest. I love the festival - it has a special place in my heart - but this weekend was intellectually overstimulating. I listened to a lecture on the ‘History of Consciousness’ which probably needed a degree in philosophy studies to understand, I witnessed a ‘debate’ between a number of politicians and organisers that got really nowhere helpful (an accurate reflection of the current political system) and I listened to a large group of Welshmen in uniform sing in an unexpectedly gorgeous choir…
Guess which one I’m going to write about?
There was something particularly moving about seeing a group of men, old and young, singing proudly and loudly in their native Welsh. It reminded me of the fact that Wales does indeed have a separate history, culture and language to England, but sadly, I don’t know very much about it - and anecdotally, it appears that if you grow up in England, you’re not really taught that history either (happy to be corrected though?). As a migrant to London, England, it can be easy to assume that the entire UK is fairly similar culturally, but when one travels to Wales, Scotland (or ostensibly Northern Ireland, though I myself have not had the pleasure yet!) it becomes very clear that the UK is not nearly as homogeneous as an episode of Midsummer Murders would have you believe. The UK has it’s own history of colonisation that the English really don’t seem to have made even the slightest amend for. It’s fascinating.
As the Blaenavon Male Voice Choir's sonorous chords filled the tent on the final night of the festival, I reflected on what other traditions, rituals and experiences give men the space and permission to be so earnestly wholesome and wholehearted. They sung about their love of their land, family and laughter, they sung in rhyme and in opera, they sang of deep loss and joyful levity. Their emotion and vulnerability were celebrated, not mocked. It felt unique, powerful and so deeply healthy that I couldn’t help but split my face with a blinding grin. If only more men of all ages had spaces where they could be themselves so fully. If only, everytime men present themselves to their community in ways that fundamentally challenge harmful masculine traits, they are embraced and lauded, rather than told they are somehow deficient. If only the world was full of Welsh male choirs!
Until tomorrow, folks. I’m off to listen to Arglwydd!
PS - I also wonder - do the English have the same love of singing and music as the Welsh, Irish and Scots? If not, why?