‘CANU HAF’ - a new collection of Welsh traditional May carols

Date: April 2017

A new collection of Welsh traditional May Carols was published on Mayday (“Calan Mai”): edited by Arfon Gwilym and Sioned Webb.

The collection is based on a much smaller collection published in 1944, edited by W. S. Gwynn Williams. Six of those carols have been included in the present collection, and another 12 added, all arranged for three voices, making a total of 18 in all.

Some of the carols date back to the beginning of the 17th century and reflect the tradition at the time for small parties to travel the countryside to sing outside people’s houses - welcoming the month of May and summer in general, thanking the Lord for his generosity, and wishing well to all the family.

The majority of the carols have traditional words and melodies, but some new verses and melodies have been commissioned specially for this collection, reflecting the spirit and character of the older traditional carols. Out of the 18 carols, five of the melodies are new (composed by Sioned Webb, Mair Tomos Ifans and Arfon Gwilym) and two of the poems are new (by Alan Llwyd and Ifor Baines). These two carols have been composed in the ancient metre of ‘tri-thrawiad’, an intricate metre involving a string of rhymes and ‘cynghanedd’: it is a unique combination of the new free metres and the old Welsh strict metres.

Arfon Gwilym, Manager of Cwmni Gwynn, said: “Although the tradition of walking around the countryside singing outside people’s houses around Mayday has long disappeared, these carols are an important part of our heritage and are worth singing in any age, as nature revives once again after the cold winter months.”

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