Thomas Gruffydd Jones “Tafalaw” 1832-1898

Thomas Gruffydd Jones

He was born on 6th January 1832 at The Forge, Penycae, Monmouth; he was the son of Rev Gruffydd and Hannah Jones, his wife Hannah, daughter of Thomas Griffiths, puddling master, Penydarren. His father was ordained at Bethel, Victoria, Monmouthshire, and served besides, the churches of Sardis in Pontypridd, Elim, in Mynydd Cynffyg, and Siloam, in Cefn Cribwr, and died at the advanced age of 82 at Ash Hall, Cowbridge, Montgomeryshire, at the residence of his daughter, Mrs Daniel Owen, proprietor of the Western Mail. His mother died at Cefn Cribwr, aged 77 years.

Thomas Gruffydd Jones was apprenticed as carpenter but his chief delight lay in music which he had inherited from his mother. He received his first lessons in music from Rosser Beynon. When only 16 he became presenter at Sardis, Pontypridd, of which his father was then the minister.

In 1850 he began to send his compositions to eisteddfodau; at an eisteddfod held at Bethesda, Merthyr Tydfil, he won the prize (against twenty-two other competitors) for an anthem on the words ‘Wele fy ngwas a lwydda.’ under the adjudication of Tanymarian (Edward Jones Stephen December 1822-1885), leuan Gwyllt, leuan Ddu, Gwilym Gwent and other great masters of music in Wales. He began also to be in demand as eisteddfod adjudicator. He moved to Cardiff where in 1858 he published Y Drysorfa Gorawl, which contained anthems and choral pieces; this was a useful collection, but it involved the author in financial loss.

At the age of 20 he began his career as musical adjudicator, in which capacity he has served frequently thereafter. Soon after attaining his majority he became a lecturer on musical subjects and was heard in many of the principal cities of Wales. At the age of 24 he married Miss Rebecca, daughter of William Evans, of Pontypridd. The following year he became a coal shipper at Cardiff. While there he conceived the idea of compiling and publishing a collection of choral pieces under the title, “Y Drysorfa Gorawl” (The Choral Treasury), which was the fore-runner of all choral work in Wales. In his 27th year his father’s church, at Elim, noticing his success as a speaker on musical subjects, invited him to enter the ministry, which he did, commencing at that church. At 30 he became private secretary to Thomas Gee, the well-known publisher of Denbigh.

Subsequently he became a teacher in Dr. Williams’ subsidised school at Holywell. Here he began to publish a musical encyclopaedia, which was ahead of the times, and therefore failed of sufficient patronage.

He left Denbigh in 1863 for Aberdare, where he started up a printing office at which he could produce Y Gwyddonydd Cerddorol. His ‘Gwarchae Harlech,’ a cantata, was performed by Côr Caradog in 1865, and on the Sabbaths supplied various churches in the vicinity. His publishing office was at 13 Lewis Aberaman, Aberdare, which was then sold to Thomas Howell (Hywel Cynon), before he emigrated to America in 1866.

Thomas Gruffydd Jones
Then in February 22nd 1867 Thomas Gruffydd Jones, was ordained pastor of the Congregational church of Slatington, Pa. In 1868-9 he served the church of Summit Hill, Pa. Went to Arvonia, Kansas, in 1870, and bought a farm, and in 1871-2 held a co-pastorate with Dr. Walter Barrows. In 1872-3-4 he occupied the chair of Fine Arts at the State Normal school of Emporia, and in 1874 was elected to the chair of the Classics, but through excessive work as director of the Emporia Choral Union, he suddenly lost his voice and had to resign his college position. In 1875-6 he served the Congregational church of Coal Vallev, Ill., thence he came to Minnesota and ministered to the Salem, Goshen and South Bend churches in Blue Earth County for three years, when he received a serious injury by an accidental fall from his buggy, and retired to his Kansas farm to recuperate. Served the church at Morris Run, Pa., in 1888 and the English Presbyterian church of Antrim, Pa., in 1889-90. In 1891 undertook to establish with the publisher, D. O. Evans, “The American Musical Times,” but his health again broke down and he retired once more to his farm. Rallying he accepted a call to the church at Bala, Kansas, in 1894. He is a man of much ability as a preacher, poet, musician, essayist and critic.
Extract from “Y Drych,” the American organ of the Welsh people, Utica, New York, 15 Mar 1956: Wrth Fedd Tavalaw

The Rev. T. S. Jones)
by Rev. J. Vincent Jones, D.D., Cleveland, Ohio

It is tradition that genius dead is more appreciated than genius living. The Welsh have a timeless adage to that effect – “Os myni glod, bydd farw.” Renown’s toll is death – a folklore variant of tollgate origin.

Why should names of some sons of Gwalia start a person humming an old tune? Because, of course, they are pleasant reminders of brave, blithe and, withal, truly Welsh Followers of the Gleam, who have turned Cymric life and topography into saga and song. The subject of this sketch was just such a crafty genius. His very pseudonym, “Tavalaw,” has an oddly familiar air, bewitchingly rich with the red soil of Taff Valley, where the natives to this day stick to their wild-flower brand of colloquial Welsh.

Born at Penycae, Monmouthshire, January 6, 1832, a son of Rev. Griffith Jones, Congregational minister, his life span was a most dramatic one. His memoirs and literary relics are a deep and water clear source of personal data, so that it is a comparatively easy task to dip into the well of biography and bring up a full bucket.

As a boy he showed amazing precocity. Read music deftly at 12. Attended the public school of his day. At 16 he held the post of chorister at Sardis Church, Pontypridd, where his father was a pastor. Spent a span of time as a cabinet-maker’s apprentice with Mathonwy, a folkpoet of note, who saw that he would never earn his salt as a craftsman, and that his blood-born and bone-bred love of music showed that he was manifestly destined to be a cerddor (musician).

At 18 he ranked second in an anthem contest at the Merthyr Cymmrodorton Eisteddfod under the adjudication of Tanymarian, one of Wales’ most renowned musicians. At 20 he himself was adjudicator of music at the Derwen Deg Eisteddfod, Rhondda Valley, when he won his first classic in literature, “Hanes y Glowr,” a coal-mine story somewhat akin to Llewellyn’s modern novel, “How Green Was My Valley.”

At 22, in cooperation with Rees Lewis (Eos Ebrill), he undertook to publish a book entitled “Treasury of Music,” and in the same year adjudicated music at an Aberdare Eisteddfod, and it was there that the musical title of Tavalaw was conferred on him, and in accordance with ancient Druidical rites was awarded the much coveted degree of “Penceredd yr Orsedd” (Doctor of Music).

In 1857 we find him again in the role of adjudicator at a Cwmavon Eisteddfod where he occupied the platform for fully one-and-a-half hours adjudging 14 choirs which were competing on “O Save Us,” out of the masterpiece, “The Storm on the Lake Tiberius.” When he made the final award, the eminent jurist, Johns of Dolau Cothi, said: “There I never heard a better summing up, even from a Bench of Justice; mark him well, he is a man on the eve of celebrity.”

His prize cantawd, “Gwarchae Harlech” (The Siege of Harlech), was so masterly a composition that the famed choir leader, Caradog, immediately organized a concert to which the public was invited to judge the “Musician of the Future,” as Tavalaw was then styled.

From 1860 to 1862 we find him occupied as private secretary in the office of Thomas Gee, Denbigh publisher, and it was there he conceived the idea of compiling a “Gwyddoniadur Cerddorol” (Encyclopaedia of Music). In 1863 he is happily ensconced at Aberdare establishing a printer, with the object of publishing an Anthology of Music. But, true to his nomadic temperament, his stay was brief, because in 1865 he decided to try his fortune in America, a country, so he was advised, that was an Eldorado to an accomplished master, but not so good for a farming student.

Possessed of a sort of ball-bearing mind, together with a capacity to excel in all he touched, one does not wonder that soon after his arrival in the United States he entered the ministry and was duly ordained at Slatington, Pa., June 3, 1866. Intermittently he held pastorates at Summit Hill, Pa.; Coal Valley, Ill.; Mineral Ridge, Ohio; Blue Earth, Minn., and served as pulpit supply at Madison and Waverly, Kansas.

The chronicle of his tenure as farmer in Arvonia is that of an exiled lyrical heart on the prairie, which in scant time found that there is no intrinsic dignity for a man of both literary and musical temperament in cultivating common earth, in the sole of a worn shoe, in raising cattle, or in a workaday overalls; consequently he accepted the position of associate professor of music at Emporia State Teachers College, which he held for a span of four years, 1882-1886.

America has never been a genial soil for Welsh anthems, yet he planted a few laurels here which were issued by his son-in-law, D. O. Evans, an early date music publisher of Youngstown, Ohio.



Possibly the most chivalrous of his musical peregrinations was that of 1887, which he lyrically dubbed his “Sing-a-bout” year. With bird-like hope we find him soaring aloft again and flitting gleefully from one Welsh settlement to another giving, with the aid of his daughters, Sibyl and Sara, a sprightly admixture of Welsh and American folksongs, the girls doing the vocal part and he accompanying them with his violin.

His literary activity fell within the Golden Age of Welsh settlements, and his articles in “The Columbia,” a bilingual weekly published in Emporia, Kansas, in the 80’s, are all masterly work — readable and revealing, with plenty of Tavalawesque touches, such as his variant of folksongs.

Tavalaw was one of two full-fledged representatives of the Welsh Gorsedd of Music in the U.S.A. His soul-mate in that select class was Dr. Joseph Parry (Penceredd America), a composer of the first rank. On March 17, 1898, the end arrived in the gentleness of sleep at the home of his daughter, Mrs Myfanwy Grosser, Kansas City. Tavalaw was laid by his wife within a family grave at Waverly, Kansas. Both rest under a lowly mound of Mother Earth. Sole immediate survivors are a daughter, Mrs Myfanwy Grosser, Cleveland, Ohio, and a granddaughter, Mrs Myrtle Brown, Emporia, Kansas.

In loving memory of The Reverend Griffith Jones
Obituary from a Youngstown, Ohio newspaper:
was Famous.
Death of Rev. Tavalaw Jones
at Kansas City.
A Literary and Musical Author and
Critic and Pulpit Orator.

His Friends Will Be Shocked
Upon Hearing of His

Last night Mrs D. O. Evans received the sad intelligence that her father, Rev. Tavalaw Jones, D.D., had died at his home in Kansas City. Rev. Jones’ death was the result of a paralytic stroke he received March 6. Since that time he remained in an unconscious condition until death relieved his sufferings. Rev. Jones was 67 years old at the time of his death. He was born in Wales in 1831, and came to America in 1862. He settled in Kansas and always considered that state his home. Being engaged in the ministry he necessarily had to change his residency every time he had a new call. Consequently during his long service in the Congregational church he has lived in many different places. He preached in this city for some time and in many churches in Kansas.

Not only was Rev. Jones a successful minister of the gospel, but he was gifted with unusual musical and literary abilities. His fame as a writer of music and poetry has spread beyond the limits of Welsh society. He was a writer of English as well as Welsh, and his essays and poems have drawn praise from the best critics. Among his best literary efforts may be mentioned “A Critical Commentary Upon the American Constitution” and his “Analogy of Mythology and the Bible.” His musical compositions are numerous and excellent, and are mostly of a sacred character. It is no exaggeration to say that Dr. Tavalaw Jones was one of the most prominent Welshmen of his day in this country.

The deceased leaves a widow and five daughters. Of these Mrs. D. O. Evans resides in this city, Mrs W. J. Edwards in Cleveland, Mrs Charles Stoolfire in Mull Hall [sic], Oklahoma, Mrs George E. Dalloff and Mrs William Clancy in Kansas City.

The funeral arrangements have not yet been made. Mrs D.O. Evans will leave at once for Cleveland, where she will meet her sister, Mrs. W. J. Edwards, who will accompany her to Kansas City.

Obituary from the “Kansas City Journal” of Kansas City, Missouri dated 19 Mar 1898:
Famous Song Writer Dead
“Tavalaw” Reaches Life’s Journey End Here
– – –
He was T. G. Jones, but Wrote
Under a Nom de Plume, and His
Church Songs Were Sung the World Over
Tavalaw, a composer of sacred songs which have been sung in churches on every civilized land on earth, died in Kansas City yesterday of paralysis at the home of his son-in-law, G. W. Chaney, 1733 Holly street.

Tavalaw was the nom de plume adopted by rev. Dr. T. G. Jones for his musical compositions. Dr. Jones was a minister of the Congregational Church. He was born in Wales in 1831, and in the schools of his native country he received his early education. From his boyhood, music was a passion with him. At the eisteddfods, the musical literary gatherings of his countrymen, he won many prizes for his songs before he was 20 years old. At that age, he married and three years later he brought his wife and a young daughter to America. Out of his savings and the income from his musical compositions, he bought an extensive farm at Lebo, Coffee County, Kansas.

He was a devout Christian, and in addition to his farming, he took up the study of theology, and was ordained a minister in the Congregational church. Later, he sought for and obtained the degree of divinity. Farming proved to be an unprofitable occupation for him, and he gave himself entirely to preaching and to the writing of music. For a number of years, he was pastor of the Congregational church in Youngstown, O. He preached successfully in Emporia, Arvonia and Madison, Kas. He was the director of the normal school at Emporia, a position which he held until compelled to resign on account of failing health. He had been a preacher in Wales.

T. Tavalaw Jones
During the past few years, illness prevented him from engaging in church work, and he made his home with his son-in-law, D. W. Chaney. When (he) later removed from Kansas to 1733 Holly street a month ago, Dr. Jones (and) his invalid wife, who survives him, accompanied him. He leaves also four daughters. At the time of his death, he was engaged in arranging his musical compositions in a book form for publication. The body is at Wagner’s undertaking rooms. The burial will be at Waverly, Kas. The time of the funeral has not been set. He married Mary Rebecca Evans 3 Jul 1854 in the parish church in Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan, Wales.

(1) Taliesen William Jones (1855-)
(2) Helen Jones (1857-1914)
(3) Sarah Ann Jones (1859-1924)
(4) Mary Hannah Jones (1864-1952)
(5) Sybil Isabella Jones (1866-1920)
(6) Myfanwy Jones (1876-1965).

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