William Phillips was born at Llwydcoed in April 1846, from early childhood, he showed a strong passion for music and became one of the premier altos in Caradog’s famous choir. He possessed a voice of wonderful compass, which enabled him to win both the bass and tenor solos at the large Eisteddfod held in the Rhondda in the early eighties. The test pieces were “The trumpet shall sound” (bass) and “Sound an Alarm” (tenor).
After residing some years at Club Street and Brook Street Aberaman, he became a check weigher at the Middle Duffryn Pit and removed to Davis Street, Aberaman to live. Whilst here he met and married the daughter of Mr J. Pearson Price (now of New York), and removed to Morriston to become the precentor of Sardis Congregational Church, under the pastorate of H. Gwerfyl James.
He took conducting mixed choirs in which direction he reached the zenith of his fame. He won 11 times in succession with the Ystrad Choir on the test piece, “Worthy is the Lamb”, Handel. Indeed, he was recognised as such a formidable opponent that at the Merthyr Eisteddfod in 1871, the conductors of other choirs objected to his appearance on the stage.
He gained a victory, however, which was none the less famous than his conquest at the National Eisteddfod at Swansea a few years later. His choir at this time hailed from Hirwaun, and he was complimented by Madam Patti upon their performance. The test pieces were “Yr Ystorm” (Dr Parry) and “When winds breathe soft.” The prize being £100.
In 1871 he also won a handsome chair as conductor of the Aberaman Choir, his eldest son T. J. Phillips, being born on the very same day.
His trophies altogether numbered over 100, and his familiar pseudonym. “Cochyn Bach” became such a household word in Wales that his early death in 1884 was very deeply and widely, mourned.
The fifteen-pound prize for the best singing of the chorus “O Father,” from “Judas,” was awarded to Saron choir Aberaman, four choirs competed. In the evening, a concert was held at the same place, when the building was crowded with people, Mr Dewi Evans presided at the Piano. A section of the Aberdare United Choir sang “Be Not Afraid,” “Day of Vengeance,” “See the Conquering Hero corns,” and ” O great is the depth.” “Miss Vaughan sang “Tros y gareg,” and “Peidiwch a dwed wrth fy nghariad.” Mr Thomas Howells sang and other amateurs several times, and Mr Griffith Jones played on the violin with visual taste and efficiency.
Temperance Hall, Aberdare 1870
The chief attraction was the prize of £20 for the choir of not less than 40 members, who could sing best the “Hallelujah Chorus,” from Handel. Six choirs competed, namely, Saron, Aberaman, Rhymney Salem, Aberdare; Siloah, Aberdare; Gwernllwyn Dowlais; and Tonypandy, Rhondda Valley. Mr John Thomas, of Blaenanerch, was the adjudicator, who awarded the prize to the Saron choir. The performances of all the choirs were very creditable, but when six good competitors were in the field, the adjudicator had a difficult task to perforin, but he was compelled to give the prize to the choir which, in his opinion, was the best.
Eisteddfod at Morriston 1870
This event, which has been looked forward to for some time passed by the inhabitants of this rapidly-progressing district, commenced on Whit-Monday, in Zion Chapel, a large and handsome building, designed in the Tuscan order by the Rev. Henry Thomas, of Ystradgynlais, Swansea Valley, and built by Messrs. Jones, Son, and Evans, of Clydach, and will cost, when fully completed, with the organ, about £3,000.
Nine choirs competed for the prize of £10 for the best rendering of” Fy Ngwlad,” which was awarded to Saron Choir, from Aberaman., Aberdare.
The prize for singing “Ho! Ho! dacw y lan” (7s. 6d) was awarded to Gwilym.
The great competition of the day was for the prize of £25, for the best rendering of “Finished is the glorious work.” Ten choirs competed, and Saron Choir Aberaman again carried off the prize.
In the evening, at seven o’clock, a concert took place the following artistes taking part Signor Paggi, Professors Trevor, Bass, E. F. Roberts, Gwilym Cynon, Hywel Cynon, Silas Evans, G. Jones, and R. Lewis. Mr E. Lawrance presided at the piano and Mr Griffiths, harpist to Lady Llanover, at the harp. The programme, which was well selected, was executed by the performers with taste and judging by the frequent rounds of applause from the audience, the labours of amateurs and professionals were fully appreciated.
Treherbert Eisteddfod 1871
In singing, most of the prizes fell to the Aberaman choir. For a prize of £15 for singing “We never will bow down” (Judas Maccabaeus) the Aberaman and Siloh choirs competed. The singing by both choirs was exceedingly good, but that of the Aberaman choir was masterly in the extreme and they, therefore, received the prize and a silver medal for the conductor.
Aberdare Eisteddfod 1876
The chief prize of £30, and a gold watch to the conductor, offered at this Eisteddfod, which took places on Good Friday, was awarded to Gwilym Cynon’s choir. Only one other choir competed. Dr Frost, of Cardiff, was the adjudicator.
Grand Eisteddfod at Swansea Music-Hall, Swansea 1876
According to promise we now give a detailed account of this eisteddfod, which took place on Christmas Day at the music-hail, Swansea. A more successful gathering has not been held at Swansea for some time. The competition throughout was good, some portion of it exceedingly good. The conductorship was such as to reflect the greatest credit on the arrangements of the committee (a rare thing, perhaps), and in particular on the conductor himself, Mr Silas Evans.
The first competition was for a prize of 10s for the best rendering of the bass or baritone solo “Y bachgen dewr,” which was won by Mr John Bryant, of Hirwain. Eighteen competed. He was highly praised by the adjudicator, Mr John Thomas, Llanwrtyd. It is understood that he intends entering the University College at Aberystwyth, for training under Professor Parry.
Next came the soprano song, “Gyda’r Wawr.” Three competed, and the prize was divided between Mrs Williams, Rhydyfro, and Mrs Crugan Evans, Hirwain.
After this came the chief event: The singing of that magnificent chorus “Hallelujah to the Father,” (Beethoven), by choirs not under 150 in number. Prize £40, and £5 5s for the conductor. Hirwain United Choir, Cwmavon United Choir, and Hirwain No. 1 choir competed. The latter, under the conductorship of Mr William Phillips (Gwilym Cynon), won the prize. The singing was grand, each choir being exceedingly well up to the mark, the winning choir being the finest and most perfect and numbering something like 400 odd voices, It was a treat to see them in the orchestra and it was a fine sight, too, from the platform to see the crowded hall, as many as 2,500 being present.
Christmas Festivities Swansea 1878
Five choirs competed, and the prize, £10, was awarded to the Hirwain Choir led by Gwilym Cynon.
The chief prize of £40, offered to choirs numbering not less than 150, for the best rendering of “Hallelujah, Amen” (from “The Ark of the Covenant,”) D. Jenkins M.B.C. The Hirwain, Neath, and Glantawe United Choirs competed. Glantawe Choir, which sang first, made a mistake which left them no chance of securing the prize, and the contest afterwards was between Neath an Hirwain. Both choirs sang the piece with great effect, and the adjudicators, after pointing out some defects, awarded the prize to the Hirwain Choir, conducted by Gwilym Cynon.
Grand Choral Competition 13.08.1880
The South Wales Eisteddfod Swansea
Open to all comers. The choir of not less than 150, not over 300, voices that will render best the chorale and choral fugue, “Fy Nuw cyfamodol a fydd,” from Dr Parry’s “Emanuel,” and the glee “When winds breathe soft.” (Webbe).
The prize was £100 and a gold medal for the conductor. The adjudicators were Messrs. Tanymarian, Emlyn Evans, and John Thomas. The following choirs competed: Hirwain Choir, under the leadership of Gwilym Cynon; Taibach and Aberavon choir, under the leadership of Eos Cynlais Swansea choir, under the leadership of Mr Richard Jones. The adjudicators took 20 minutes to decide. In giving the adjudication, Mr Emlyn Evans remarked that it was with very great regret, indeed, that he had to announce that that competition had decidedly disappointed him and his co-adjudicators.
He strongly objected to withholding a prize, but they were quite prepared to do so if necessary, especially one of such importance as this. Conscientiously they could not award the full prize, for they had not heard singing worth £100, (applause), and indeed they had not heard singing worthy of Wales, of the Eisteddfod, and certainly not of Glamorganshire. Last year, if the prize had been £500, they would have awarded it. This year they could not, and they were quite agreed to award a prize of £50 to the Hirwain Choir. The leader was invested by Mrs Chalk, amid loud cheers.
Eisteddfod Aberdare, 1881
An eisteddfod, to celebrate the anniversary of the patron saint of Wales, was held at the Temperance Hall, Aberdare, on Monday. There was a crowded audience throughout the day, but the behaviour of the people was anything but creditable. There was a continual noise kept up throughout the afternoon the proceedings were prolonged in consequence to a very unnecessary degree, and the adjudications were several times met with a boisterous show of feeling.
For the chief choral competition, six choirs competed, Cwmaman, Pentre, Trecynon, Treorchy, Hirwain, and Cwmbach. The adjudicator stated that the following was his adjudication: No. 1, inaccurate, No. 2, their phrasing bad, singing, on the whole, good, No. 3, a very good rendering of the piece, the different points are taken up well, No, 4, singing indifferent, No. 5. phrasing good, the singing stronger, and displaying neatness No. 6, out of tune, and, apparently not having hold of their work. The competition lay between Nos. 2 and 5, but after careful consideration, he adjudicated No. 5, Hirwain choir, winner, Leader, Gwilym Cynon.
Cefn and Rhosymedre 12.05.1883
A very successful concert was given in the Tabernacle, Cefn Mawr, on Monday evening, under the presidency of Mr E. Lloyd Jones, Plas Issa. The following took part: Miss Jennie Owen, Holywell, Miss Maria Williams, Berwyn, Gwilym Cynon, South Wales, and Messrs Hiram Davies, J. H. Davies, and W. Williams, Llangollen, and a Glee Party. The accompanists were Mr F. Dodd, Llangollen, and Mr T. Jones, Belle Vue.
Death of Gwilym Cynon 16.05.1884
We have to record the death of the well-known vocalist, Gwilym Cynon, which took place early on Thursday morning after much illness. The deceased had for some time past occupied the Masons’ Arms, Hirwain. He was only 59 years of age, and his untimely death is much regretted.
Hirwain the late Gwilym Cynon 17.05.1884
At a meeting held here on Thursday night, presided over by Mr Thos. Richards, manager, it was unanimously agreed to give pecuniary assistance to, and to pass a vote of condolence with, the bereaved widow of the late “Gwilym Cynon.” The funeral will start from Hirwain at 4 p.m. today (Saturday), arriving at Aberdare Cemetery at 5 p.m.
Aberdare Police Court 26.07.1884
Before J. Bishop and D. P. Davies, Esqrs.
TRANSFER. The license of The Mason’s Arms, Hirwain, was temporarily transferred from the late Gwilym Phillips (Gwilym Cynon) to his widow, Mrs Phillips.
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