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Master Singers - Two Choirs and a Valley (1965)

British Film Institute

Main image of Master Singers - Two Choirs and a Valley (1965)
16mm, 1662 feet, black & white
DirectorRobert Vas
Production CompanyNational Coal Board Film Unit
ProducerFrancis Gysin
 Humphrey Burton
PhotographyJohn Sharples

Commentator: Ewan Maccoll

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The part played by choral singing in the life of the mining valleys of South Wales. Filmed at Senghenydd and featuring the Treharris and Aber Valley male voice choirs.

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Directed and edited by the Hungarian émigré Robert Vas, this is a wonderful account of the development of a Welsh mining community. The title is deceptive: the film not only deals with the choirs but charts the social, economic and cultural development of one of the valleys of South Wales and the pit village of Senghenydd. Borrowing freely from the Free Cinema tradition which gave Vas his start as a filmmaker, it cuts from the choir practice to the other musical social events to show the importance of music in the Welsh valleys. The stern attendees - mainly women - at the chapel are compared to the boisterous men singing in a pub. There are also cuts to the industrial and rural landscapes around the mining community, again inter-cut with choir practice and the ordinary activities of the population. All this is beautifully filmed by John Sharples and narrated by the folk singer Ewan MacColl, who featured on several other National Coal Board films. Indeed, Vas had secured from the NCB his first professional post and ACTT card and went on to edit a number of the Coal Board's cine-magazine, Mining Review.

This lyrical, sympathetic, and affectionate portrayal of a community reflects Vas's previous films such as The Vanishing Street (1962) and Refuge England (1959). As the film progresses, however, it leads into the history of the community and the mining tragedy of 14th October 1913 which killed 436 miners. This was to be Britain's worst coalmining accident. One feels that this tragedy is the real reason for the film; the choir and community are merely a reflection of the camaraderie and resilience of the close Welsh mining community. This community was in decline by the time the film was made, one of the pits having closed in 1928; others in the area would also close and by the 1990s there was only one deep pit left in the whole of South Wales. So the film has itself become an historical document of a lost working community.

Simon Baker

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Video Clips
1. Introducing Senghenydd (1:23)
2. The coal rush (3:32)
3. Rehearsal (5:11)
4. A black October (5:07)
Complete film (44:16)
Burton, Humphrey (1931-)
Vas, Robert (1931-1978)
National Coal Board Film Unit (1952-84)
Miners Above Ground
The National Coal Board - The Documentaries