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Cwrs Cymraeg Y Llynnoedd Mawr, 2003


Sponsored by Cymdeithas Madog, the 2003 week-long Cwrs Cymraeg (Welsh course) was primarily a time for all the participants to learn the Welsh language, but we had plenty of cultural instruction as well as community fun. This year's course, Cwrs Y Llynnoedd Mawr (The Great Lakes Course), at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was organized, coordinated, and guided to a great success primarily by one lone Wisconsin ranger, Dick Myers. With help from Leigha Schatzman, Dick planned an exceptionally fine week with perfect weather and extraordinary views of the Great Lake Michigan. For his hospitality, apparent imperturbability, and energetic warmth, we all thank Dick, and Leigha for her behind-the-scenes role!

The course had an unusually early start on Sunday, July 20, with a grand celebration of Welsh music. At Carthage College's Chapel, a lovely carillon concert of Welsh hymns was followed by a Gymanfa Ganu (a Welsh singing festival) in conjunction with the Welsh Gymanfa Ganu Association of Wisconsin. The carilloneur and organist for the Gymanfa was Steve Jensen of Milwaukee, Rev. Joseph Corbin of Reedsburg, Wisconsin, directed the Gymanfa, and Mary Jane Jones Smyth was the soloist. Joe Corbin, Mary Jane Jones Smyth, and Mary Davis, president of the Wisconsin GGA, were all students on the course. Many other course participants arrived early to join in the singing and welcome from the Wisconsin group.

Another unusual aspect of the course was the course t-shirt design. The t-shirt is a course tradition, and returning participants bring their shirts from past courses, wearing them with pride during the week. Naturally, each design is special, but Leigha Schatzman was instrumental in having an associate of Harley-Davidson design the shirt. The flare of Y Ddraig Goch (Red Dragon) was dramatically rendered for the course held in Harley-Davidson land!

Who were we, the people who gathered to spend a week living in college dormitories and eating cafeteria fare? North Americans of all sorts, old and young, family groups, from every region of the United States and Canada as well, beginning learners to fluent speakers, newcomers and returnees happy to greet old friends, but all sharing a fascination with all (or most) things Welsh.

Participants arrived at Carthage College passing by fields of both cabbage and corn rather than the more numerous cornfields of last year's Iowa venue. But once at the school, we could walk along the shores of Lake Michigan. On the first evening, after the chapel music and dinner, we gathered for a welcoming reception hosted by the Saint David’s Society of Racine and Vicinity. As we mingled and greeted one another, the lead tutor, Mark Stonelake, introduced all the tutors, and Ada Mae Lewis, president of the Cymdeithas Madog Board, introduced the board members. The evening ended with a natural Welsh event, communal singing led by tutor Meredith Roberts.

Several participants received full or partial scholarships thanks to the generosity of organizations such as the Welsh National Gymanfa Ganu Association (WNGGA), the National Welsh American Foundation (NWAF), and a number of local Saint David’s Societies (the Racine Society provided scholarships for six students this year). Cymdeithas Madog also awards scholarships from its Endowment Fund, and private individuals provide support as well; for example, this year Canadian student Stephan Charbonneau received the Ysgoloriaeth Y Ddeilen Goch (the Red Leaf) scholarship, which was offered by Pawl Birt, former President of Cymdeithas Madog and Professor of Celtic Studies at the University of Ottawa, Canada.

During the week, the main task for all of us was to learn to pronounce, speak, and read as much Welsh as possible. Classes ranged from two Level 1 groups for the beginners to advanced and fluent Welsh speakers at Level 6. The integrated curriculum allows for an orderly progression from the basics of Welsh to more complex constructions and idioms of a living language. Our most excellent tutors--three from Wales: lead tutor Mark Stonelake, Eleri Hughes, and Robin Campbell, and five from North America: Meredith Roberts, Hefina Phillips, Marta Diaz, Kara Lewis, and Kevin Rottet—jumped into the fray with enormous enthusiasm and energy. Each tutor not only taught morning and early afternoon classes; they also led workshops and attended evening events.

To help the learners along, the course also invites a bookseller to attend and sell Welsh dictionaries, learners' kits, literature, accessories, etc. This year, David Lloyd and his wife of Y Ddraig Goch came from Sacramento, California to provide these services for the participants.

So what did we do when we weren't absorbed with learning the language? Lots of things. One is never bored at Cwrs Cymraeg! During the post- lunch Dosbarthiadau ar y Cyd, or Plenary Sessions, we gathered to hear lectures on tracing Welsh ancestry by Charlotte Olsen from the Mormon family history library; the genius of architect Frank Lloyd Wright with Craig Jacobsen from Taliesin; medieval architecture in Wales with Barbara Stinson; and the work of the great Welsh-American composer, Dr. Joseph Parry, with Welsh scholar, Dr. Dulais Rhys. All interesting topics to enrich our understanding of the contributions of the Welsh and Welsh culture.

The late afternoon workshops followed the afternoon classes and offered a change from the classroom attention. We could choose Robin Campbell’s folk singing group, reading sessions for beginners and more advanced students, or even linguistics lessons with Marta Diaz. Meredith Roberts orchestrated the music program, directing the course choir (with devoted members and wonderful singers), leading evening sing-alongs, and rousing our early morning spirits with a few old favorites. Mark Stonelake presided over the course paper, always an eagerly anticipated publication. This year's course paper, Llais Y Llyn (The Voice of the Lake), was another afternoon (and evening and late night) activity.

For Wednesday afternoon's traditional field trip, we toured the famous and stunning Johnson Wax Headquarters designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Afterwards, we spent time visiting the museums, cat walk (oddly and colorfully imagined statues of cats throughout downtown), and bookstores in Racine. Finally, we picnicked on the grassy Racine harbor and watched the sailboats tacking right and left and busy birds swooping about looking for their dinner. A few of the Welsh tutors even joined in a rather bizarre form of American football/rugby.

Another change of activities, but not the pace, marked our evening events. The traditional Monday Twmpath Dawns, Welsh folk-dancing, is always a rollicking ice breaker. The Quiz night is another popular attraction. This year we also saw the fascinating BBC production of "The Story of Welsh" as well as a poignantly imagistic and sad Welsh film, Un Nos Ola Leuad (One Moonlit Night). Finally we enjoyed the traditional banquet, entered the Course Eisteddfod, and engaged in the uproarious antics and superb music and storytelling of the final night's Noson Lawen or "Merry Evening."

The Course Eisteddfod is a very special event for Cwrs Cymraeg. It is a peculiarly Welsh celebration of literature and culture in which competitors submit their writing in Welsh. For our Eisteddfod, three competitions are held, one for the lower levels (a postcard), one for middle level learners (a journal), and one for the more advanced students. This year, the theme for the highest level competitors was shipwrecks--an appropriate topic given the many famous shipwrecks that have occurred off the coasts of Wales and on the Great Lakes. The tutors played the solemn role of the Druidic adjudicators and announced the winners: Betty Cullingworth, Bill Roberts, and Kathleen Whitt who was chaired as she received the druidic blessing and the small-scale, hand carved Eisteddfod chair to keep until next year’s competition. Congratulations to all the Eisteddfod winners, and cheers for the many entrants!

We had even more hwyl (fun) at Saturday night's Noson Lawen, which was a wonderful evening of entertainment to round out the week of learning and fun. Punctuated by some very bad jokes from emcee Mark Stonelake, the audience was treated to skits by fellow classmates, an Arthurian folk story, a conceptual lesson on the distance between the solar system's planets (in English and Welsh), a crazy Cinderella story by bookshop keeper, David Lloyd, lovely musical interludes, folk songs, and the performance of two songs by the course choir.

During the week, the Board of Directors found time (during meals) to meet daily for their annual general meeting. During board elections, Norah Hogoboom, Sam Little, and Sarah Campbell were re-elected for three-year terms. We welcome our new board member, Kara Lewis, who also taught the Level 6 class. Our congratulations to our newly elected officers: Jenny Hubbard Young, president; Sam Little, vice president; Ginny Grove, secretary; and Wayne Morrissey, treasurer. We especially want to thank retiring president, Ada Mae Lewis, for all her hard work for and dedication to Cymdeithas Madog.

The week flies by, and, too soon, we say farewell until next year. Kenosha was a gracious host city and even published a fine article by Jessica Hansen about our activities in The Kenosha News.

As for next year, planning has already begun for the course to be held in the lovely city of Ottawa, Ontario. Please join us there for another rich and exhilarating adventure of Wales in North America.

Thanks to Wayne Morrissey, Dick Myers, Sarah Stevenson, Andrew Welsh, and Jenny Hubbard Young for their reviews of this story.