Under the direction of a chorister, the congregation perfected the singing that the elders in Rhiwgriafol sought to prevent, and in the 1937 book One Hundred Years of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism in America, Daniel Jenkins Williams wrote, "A conspicuous characteristic of the Venedocia Church is its remarkable and inspiring congregational singing."
The Gymanfa Ganu, literally, "festival of singing," is a long standing tradition in the congregation. Beginning in 1915, the annual report lists payment made to Dr. Daniel Protheroe of Chicago, Illinois, who came regularly for a number of years to direct the Gymanfa Ganu. He was a prolific hymn writer, and wrote at least two hymn tunes named after Venedocia.
In 1890, the Venedocia Male Chorus was formed, continuing the Welsh tradition of male choirs. For over 20 years this group toured the nation, and won the National Eisteddfod competition in Seattle, Washington. They disbanded about 1912, and in 1918, the Cambrian Glee Club was formed "to develop an organization which would afford an opportunity for the young men of the community to follow in the footsteps of their fathers and older brothers who were active members of the famous male chorus which flourished in the community from approximately 1890 to 1912 and to maintain the excellent tradition which it had so effectively established; to maintain an interest in choral work for which the Welsh people are so well known; to make it possible for the young men to exercise their God-given talent for their own personal satisfaction and to provide entertainment for those interested in male chorus singing. Two strict requisites were made: only single men were to be admitted to membership and that the accompanist was to be a male." Their first director and president, Haydn Morgan, went on to become a professor of music at Eastern Michigan University and wrote and arranged a number of anthems for church choirs. The Cambrian Glee Club performed concerts throughout the region, and beginning in 1930, held annual reunions Labor Day weekend, coinciding with Salem’s Gymanfa Ganu. Throughout the history of the congregation, a number of young people have gone on to careers in music, from organists and choir directors to performers and composers.
The importance of music in the life of the congregation is also reflected in their willingness to quickly adapt new musical technology. In 1920 electric blowers were installed on the organ, and the church borrowed the money necessary to complete the work. In 1971, a new 19 rank Moller pipe organ was dedicated, replacing the original 1898 Barckhoff Pipe Organ of 14 ranks that had been removed the previous November.
In 1954, the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers was formed, and in 1963 Schulmerich became the first company in the United States to manufacture handbells. Salem Presbyterian Church quickly became involved in what was to become the growing popularity of handbells, and in November of 1964, a gift of 25 Schulmerich cast-bronze handbells were given to the church in the memory of Thomas A. Morgan by his family. In the fall of 1969 an additional 13 bells were given by Mr. and Mrs. Layton Jenkins in memory of both their parents, for a total of 38 bells covering a three-octave range. From December 1965 through May 1972, 30 youth and 20 adults participated in the bell program which brought the mission of the bells over 9,000 miles reaching approximately 20,000 people (excluding radio and TV audiences). .
In September of 1997, we dedicated a baby grand piano given by the Davis family in memory of their two daughters, Marla Davis McOmber and Sharon Davis. Both of these young women had grown up in the church, and Marla had served as the church’s organist, and Sharon as choir director prior to their untimely deaths. The piano was originally given to Marla by her husband as a wedding gift, and upon her death was given to her sister, Sharon. When Sharon was killed in an automobile accident, it was given to the church in memory of the two sisters.
Even in the face of untimely deaths and important leaders moving away, the music program at Salem Church continues and grows, reflecting the continuing emphasis the congregation places on music. The bell program continues today, with three active children and youth bell choirs including children ranging from kindergarten through high school. Our junior choir program, which is open to all elementary age children and meets after school on Wednesdays, has about 30 active participants. The 1997 Sunday School Christmas program was centered around music, and included choirs, handbells, flute and piano, with over 60 people contributing their talents.