Gwenan Gibbard:
Welsh ambassador

Gwenan Gibbard is an ambassador for Welsh traditions.

Caught during a busy week in the Green Room at the Celtic Colours Festival Club, Gwenan was tired but proud to be bringing a taste of Wales to a Cape Breton festival dominated by local, Scottish and Irish music.

"I've been singing folk songs since I was a small child," she said.

Particularly, Gwenan is a mistress of penillion, a tradition of singing poetry to a harp setting.

The rules of the tradition dictate that the poetry and music must have different melodies that provide a counterpoint to one another, beginning separately but ending together, she explained.

"Poetry is very important in the Welsh tradition," Gwenan said. "And this is quite unique. I don't know of any place else it's done. But there are so many rules -- there are whole textbooks of rules." But, since she's been doing it now for a few decades, Gwenan said she feels "quite at home accompanying myself in the old tradition."

Gwenan, 29, hails from northwestern Wales, where the Welsh language is still thriving in speech and song.

"The songs are so connected with our language -- we don't sing them in English," she said. "I wouldn't dream of singing in another language."

Welsh songs, she said, are very melodic, very lyrical and focused on storytelling.

The harp, too, is an important part of Welsh traditions. "The harp has always been popular in Wales, but in the last 10 years it's become even more popular."

Gwenan plays three different styles of the instrument -- she started playing at age 8 -- but prefers the smaller Celtic harp in her performances. "It's something I always really wanted to do," she said. "It's hard, but it comes naturally to me."

While some folks might view the harp through a classical lens, Gwenan thrives on the lively, dance-oriented folk harp stylings. And it's been getting a great reception among the music-loving audiences at Celtic Colours.

"People don't know much about Welsh music," Gwenan said. "But they seem to be enjoying it. I'm glad they like it."

The world is ready for a little more Welsh, she added.

"We have kept our traditions to ourselves -- which is a good thing, and bad. Welsh music isn't as well known as Irish or Scottish," she said. "But there's a growing interest in the promotion of Welsh music. We want to share it."

[ visit the artist's website ]

interview by
Tom Knapp

3 November 2007

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