Few people today realize how much of Oneida County history was influenced by Welsh settlers.
The Gymanfa Ganu, or an annual singing of sacred Welsh hymns, helps carry on Welsh traditions and carries on the historical connections, even locally. Attendees don’t just come and listen, as everyone is encouraged to join along in the 4-part harmony. Hymns are sung primarily in English, but mixed in with Welsh.
Today in Vernon Center, a Gymanfa Ganu was held at This Old Church, the newly restored former Vernon Center Presbyterian Church. The hymn festival was organized and the music conducted by Jay Williams III, who currently serves as pastor of the Augusta Presbyterian Church, once served here as pastor of the Vernon Center congregation.
About 50 participated. Many are part of St. David’s Society of Utica, a group dedicated to preserving Welsh culture in our area. But for nearly one-third of attendees, this was their first Gymanfa.
The historic Alvinza Andrews pipe organ was played throughout by organist Susan Bartholomew of Remsen. Bartholomew pointed out that she is fortunately to play regularly on another early Andrews organ in Remsen – nothing that they are “the best.” Soloist Michael Faris gave the congregation a break at times, singing 2 solos that nonetheless filled the sanctuary.
Garrett Law, owner of This Old Church, gave a brief history of the building, its congregation, and the importance of both historical preservation, and coming together as a community.
The practice of the Gymanfa Ganu dates back to 1859 at Bethania Chapel in Aberdare, Wales. The first North American Gymanfa was in 1929 near Niagara Falls, NY.