Last week I received an unexpected email.

“Dear Joe, I’ve recorded one of the Welsh folk songs that I’ve been singing recently. You can hear it via the link below…”

I listened, and what a treat it was. Not just because of the beauty of the singer’s unaccompanied voice (click here to listen to Bugeilio’r gwenith gwyn  first hand) but also because of the circumstances.

I have known Andrea for almost 20 years. We worked on a medical journal; she was a young manager when I was the middle-aged editor. A pharmacist by training, Andrea was talented, thoughtful,  industrious and modest. She was also a very private person. Some 15 years later I retired but we have kept in touch and now meet for lunch once or twice a year. I knew that she was in a choir and was having singing lessons. I had no idea that her voice was so good. For a shy person to send unannounced a recording of her singing, and to suggest that I might listen, was completely out-of-character and unexpected. Of more relevance, hearing her singing gave a deep glow, even a thrill.

What was going on? Turning first to her singing, my glow could not have been due to the performance alone. Over the years I have heard many outstanding voices and while they have been marvellous, none gave me the same warmth, the same pleasure, as did Andrea’s.  Nor could the glow have had an element of reflected glory. That said, this warmth was not new; it was the same feeling I experienced when, with 200 others I listened enthralled to a friend’s poetry recital in France [see Every crowd has a silver lining, 1st Nov,2010] and again when I attended the launches of two close friends books and witnessed approbation by packed auditoria. Closer to home, I tingled when I saw my wife on TV explaining philosophical concepts and when my sisters gained acclaim for their textile designs.

In each instance, save Andrea’s, I knew there was excellence afoot but it was the sharing of the event, of being there at the moment of success, of witnessing the acclaim, that gave the buzz. With Andrea, I had to judge for myself but that sufficed. Importantly, my feelings were not the same as the deep pride and pleasure I had when watching my children doing almost anything when they were young. That was parental. With friends and family (and now my children as adults) it is something else.

Notwithstanding the value of the glow, of equal importance has been how on each occasion I have been invited to bear witness. And for Andrea, to do this will have required particular courage.


Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn  (‘Watching the White Wheat’) is an 18th C Welsh love song. It describes the tragic love affair between Wil Hopcyn and Ann Thomas (The Maid of Cefn Ydfa) from the village of Llangynwyd in Glamorganshire.

Photo credit: Wheat field ©2005 by Francois.

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