Choirs from Wales and the University of Alabama at Birmingham unite virtually in song of hope

Due to COVID-19, the UAB Gospel Choir did not get to visit Wales and the Urdd National Eisteddfod choir competition as planned, so they’re singing in Welsh for a virtual trans-Atlantic collaboration.

Urdd Gobaith Cymru in Wales and the University of Alabama at Birmingham have come together to create a virtual gospel choir to celebrate their new partnership.  

From chapels to sports stadiums, Wales, known as the land of song, has an unequivocal strong and longstanding history with music. That shared passion was an obvious link when Siân Lewis, chief executive at Urdd Gobaith Cymru, met with Patrick Evans, D.M., chair of the UAB College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Music, on a visit arranged by the Welsh government to Alabama last fall.  

From side, Dr. Reginald Jackson, EdD (Instructor, Music; Director, UAB Gospel Choir) is playing a Steinway & Sons grand piano while directting students in UAB Gospel Choir wearing their robes while on stage in the Jemison Concert Hall at the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center, 2019.Lewis accompanied Minister for Education Kirsty Williams to mark their respect and show solidarity with the African American community in Birmingham, 56 years since the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Following the terrorist attack all those years ago, the people of Wales donated a stained-glass window to the church. So with a clear shared history and a renewed desire to provide opportunities for young people on both sides of the Atlantic, to learn more about each other’s cultures and traditions, the Urdd and UAB set to work to make this a reality.  

But while tour arrangements for the UAB Gospel Choir to visit Wales and the Urdd National Eisteddfod choir competition for 2020 were being finalized, COVID-19 swept across the world, and plans were put on hold. To prevent the pandemic’s challenges from dashing the opportunity to bring the groups of young people together, a virtual choir was formed.  

Music has the power to lift spirits; as are many music genres, gospel singing is often born from a place of suffering or sorrow to provide both hope and joy. This was a chance for Urdd members to learn more about the gospel singing tradition and experience being a part of a real gospel choir. Meanwhile it would be a new experience for members of the UAB Gospel Choir too, as not only would they be singing virtually with their new friends, they would also sing in Welsh — a translation of “Every Praise” by Hezekiah Walker.     

Some 34 members — representing all the Aelwydydd Choirs that take part in the big choir competition at the Eisteddfod — were invited to form the voices of Wales. Mared Williams, a former Urdd member and star of “Les Miserables” in the West End, and UAB Gospel Choir Director Reginald James Jackson would take the lead as soloists while Music Director Richard Vaughan worked to bring the voices together.     

“Music, and gospel music in particular, has long been known to provide comfort and hope during troubling and testing times,” Lewis said. “This year has seen its fair share of challenges thrown our way, not only as individual nations, but collectively as world citizens.  

“We are delighted that, despite the pandemic, we have been able to develop our partnership and give our members the opportunity to learn more about gospel singing from our inspirational friends at UAB,” Lewis said. “Together, we have recorded a truly uplifting performance — a true beacon of hope as we look forward with positivity.” 

Evans, chair of the Department of Music at UAB, agrees.

urdd.1“The coming together of these young voices marks the beginning of a positive relationship between our students and the young people of Wales,” Evans said. “Singing in Welsh for the first time was a challenge for the choir members; however, they embraced the challenge, and we’re looking forward to visiting Wales when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, we hope that our virtual collaboration will spread a little joy during these hard times.” 

The partnership forms part of the Urdd’s international strategy to engage young people from around the world with the young people of the Urdd. Urdd Gobaith Cymru is a national voluntary youth organization in Wales, United Kingdom, with more than 55,000 members between the ages of 8 and 25 years old. Since its establishment in 1922 — to give children and young people in Wales opportunities to learn and socialize in Welsh — the Urdd has nurtured more than 4 million young men and women to be proud of their country, 

open to the world, and living embodiments of its language and culture, along with the universal values cherished in Wales. The significance of the institution in Wales cannot be overemphasized — its contribution to generations in Wales, to the lives, confidence and mental health of its young people over the years has been immense.

The video has been shared on social media and can be seen on the Urdd Gobaith Cymru YouTube page.

For more information or to arrange interviews, contact Sioned Wyn at, or Shannon Thomason, UAB Public Relations, at