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Welsh goings on in New York…

22 Nov, 2017

Welsh Congregation of New York member Don Farrow is reviving the ‘Noson Lawen’ tradition at the city’s Welsh church on West 73rd Street. It’s an annual party with music where everyone (and anyone) is free to perform…

I grew up in London with a Welsh speaking mother who hailed from a farm in the Preseli Hills who unfortunately never taught me the language. This may have been because growing up in the 1920s and 30s she may have thought that a person speaking Welsh might face prejudice in England. Or it might have been for more personal reasons that being the only Welsh speaker in her home she could share a private or secret language with her family back home that her husband and sons didn’t understand.

As a school kid in London I had a couple of close friends who I knew were of Welsh descent and that affinity was clearly important to me. I’ve tended to think that Welsh culture was more imaginative than Anglo-Saxon culture. As a child we would go every summer to Dinas Cross near Fishguard in Dyfed and have a seaside holiday in the area where my mother grew up and of course visiting my Welsh cousins and uncles and aunts.

I first started attending the Welsh Congregation of New York over 20 years ago. At that time the noson lawen was an annual event. I remember the son of one of the members of the church performing magic tricks at the noson when he was probably about 10 years old and he’s now in his late 20s.

"I was very excited to learn about the noson lawen tradition because it fitted neatly with my own personal values. I feel that there’s too prevalent an attitude in our society that you have to be the best or have to be a professional to perform.  I was so proud to be of Welsh descent when I learned of the noson lawen tradition."

It’s not a competition and all ages and accomplishments are welcomed. It’s my hope that in future years we can have children performing just as we did with the magic act all those years ago.

When I came back to the Welsh church-after a number of years, I was disappointed to learn that the church had stopped having its annual noson lawen. So I undertook to revive it. September's event was the fifth noson lawen we’ve had since this revival.

We alternate between poems, songs and readings so you we don’t have too many of the same thing back to back. This year we had an innovation: a visiting group from the Welsh Society of Western New England with four of their members performing. We had Welsh poetry, Broadway and vaudeville songs, opera, original stories and reminiscences. In the past we have had comedy sketches and even some political satire too which was well done and very well received.

As well as our Noson Lawen, I also initiated an annual community reading of Under Milk Wood, which has occurred for four years in a row now. We have had as many as 38 readers participating to create the sense of the village community in the play. We’ll be doing it again in February 2018.

"Connecting to my Welsh roots when I came to the USA some 25 years ago was a way for me to make an emotional link to my mother and a way to give me a sense of identity in this new home I had adopted. I have always enjoyed singing and I see that as being a natural part of being Welsh." 

The Welsh Church of New York is officiated by the Rev. Matthew Harrington. Congregation members can also take Welsh classes, attend ‘Cymanfa Ganu’, compete in bake-offs, perform in Eisteddfods and attend joint events with the New York Welsh.

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