Harry Evans – A Musical Giant

Harry Evans was born on 1 May 1873 in Russell Street, Dowlais, the son of John Evans (Eos Myrddin), a local choirmaster and his wife Sarah. Harry had no formal musical training, but was taught the Tonic Sol-fa system by his sister; such was his prodigious musical talent however, that he was appointed organist of Gwernllwyn Chapel in Dowlais when he was only 9 years old. The elders of the chapel encouraged the young Harry and arranged for him to receive music lessons from Edward Laurence, Merthyr Tydfil.

Harry Evans

In 1887 he was appointed organist of Bethania Chapel, Dowlais. He succeeded in passing all the local examinations of the Royal Academy and of the Royal College of Music, London, with honours. He was by that time anxious to devote himself entirely to music, but his father, who wished him to receive a more general education, obtained a post as pupil-teacher for him at the Abermorlais School; here he passed some South Kensington examinations in arithmetic, science, and art.

Although he passed the Queen’s Scholarship examination (for pupil-teachers), his health broke down and he was unable to proceed to a training college. In July 1893 he became A.R.C.O. (Associate of the Royal College of Organists), and from then on gave all his time to music.

An advert for Harry Evans’ services from an 1895 edition of The Merthyr Times

In 1898 Harry Evans formed a ladies’ choir at Merthyr Tydfil and a male choir at Dowlais. The male choir won the prize at the National Eisteddfod held at Liverpool in 1900; and when the National Eisteddfod came to Merthyr the following year, he conducted the Merthyr Tydfil Choir in a performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt. Following a further success at the National Eisteddfod in Llanelli in 1903, Evans retired from competition and accepted an invitation to become conductor of the Liverpool Welsh Choral Union.

In 1913 he became musical director at Bangor University College and, in the same year, local conductor and registrar of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society. He also became, at this time, conductor of the North Staffordshire Choral Society. By this time many experts regarded him as the best choral conductor in the country, and he was invited to conduct Granville Bantock’s choral symphony, Vanity of Vanities, which the composer dedicated to him.

As well as his work as a conductor, Harry Evans was a one of the most well respected adjudicators at musical competitions, and he was much in demand in that capacity at musical festivals throughout the British Isles. Also a composer, his fullest compositions were Victory of St Garmon, produced at the Cardiff Festival in 1904, and also the cantata Dafydd ap Gwilym ; he also wrote several anthems and hymn-tunes, and arranged Welsh folk-songs and airs for choirs.

During 1914 Harry Evans’ health began to deteriorate, and his doctor advised complete rest, but it was soon discovered that he was suffering from a brain tumour. He underwent emergency surgery from which he never fully recovered, and on 23 July 1914 Harry Evans died and the tragically young age of 41. He was buried at the Toxteth Park Cemetery in Liverpool. After his death, a hymn-tune named In Memoriam was composed by Caradog Roberts in his memory and included in several Welsh hymnals.

Throughout his life Harry Evans’ main ambition was to establish a music college in Wales; had he lived he might have realized his ambition – the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama was established in 1949 as Cardiff College of Music at Cardiff Castle.

Merthyr’s Modest Maestro

Many thanks to Carl Llewellyn for the following article:

This a tribute to the first musical director of the Dowlais Male Choir – Mr D.T. Davies L.R.A.M., F.R.C.O. M.B.E.

dt-davies

Born on 28 June 1900 in Dowlais, where he lived all his life, David Thomas Davies, affectionately known to all as “D.T.”, devoted a lifetime to music, rendering a priceless and distinguished contribution to the cultural life not only in the local community but in Wales as a whole.

To give D.T. the credit he deserved he began as a gifted amateur — his musical qualifications were obtained by part time study. He began his working life in 1914 as a clerk in the Local Iron Works, then in 1925 became a local Government employee. It was only in his later years that he taught music as a subject in school from 1953 until his retirement in 1965.

By nature a retiring, and reserved personality who shunned, indeed detested the limelight, when he stood before his Choirs or sat at the keyboard, this quiet unassuming man was transformed into a colossus before whom one sat in awe and admiration. Had he been born later, in the Television and Record era, he would have received star billing, and his massive talent would have reached and impressed a wider audience than those of us who were privileged to sing for him or listen to him play. His record of achievements in the musical world speaks volumes for his versatility as well for his brilliant musicianship.

Qualifications

D.T. attained his L.R.A.M. (Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music) in 1926 and his F.R.C.O. (Fellow of the Royal College of Organists) in 1934

Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales

Dowlais Ladies Choir –  First Prize Treorchy 1928; First Prize Neath 1934 & First Prize Caernarfon 1935

Dowlais United Choir           First Prize Fishguard 1936

Dowlais Male Choir              First Prize Ruthin 1973

This achievement of three firsts in the three major choral competitions at the Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales is considered rare, probably unique in the history of the National Eisteddfod.

As well as conducting choirs at the National Eisteddfod, D.T. also adjudicated in the classes for mixed choirs, male choirs, and organ competitions and on one occasion was the official accompanist for the Eisteddfod.

Cymanfaoedd Ganu

Since 1924 D.T. had conducted over 150 singing festivals in all parts of Wales as well as in London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol.

Accompanist

D.T. was one of the old Penywern (Dowlais) Male Choir accompanists during its existence.

Organist

D.T. was the organist and precentor at Soar-Ynysgau Welsh Congregational Chapel Merthyr Tydfil from 1928 until his death in 1983.

Honours

1968 D.T. Davies was awarded the M.B.E. for services to music in Wales

1974 D.T. became an honorary Freeman of the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil in recognition of a lifetime virtually dedicated to music.

D.T. is remembered for his humility in his genius, kindly gentleness and quiet humour, acclaim was thrust upon him – never sought.

What is certain is that the choristers of the Cor Meibion Dowlais, who knew D.T., would echo the words of Mr. John Haydn Davies (Treorci) Doyen of Welsh Male Choir conductors, in speaking of D.T. after Dowlais’ win at the 1973 National Eisteddfod— “Y Twysog Ei Hunain” – “The Prince Himself”.

dowlais-united-choir-with-d-t-davies-in-bryn-sion-a
D.T. Davies with the Dowlais United Choir in Bryn Sion Chapel, Dowlais

To read more about Dowlais Male Voice Choir, follow the link below:

http://dowlaismalechoir.co.uk/