It will be a first in the history of the 100-member Morriston Orpheus Choir which performed in Abu Dhabi recently

Wales's biggest and best-known all-male choir, the Morriston Orpheus Choir, is set to receive a woman to head their ensemble.

Alwyn Humphreys, the choir's musical director who conducted the group in Abu Dhabi during their recent first-ever performance in an Arab country, is stepping down and will shortly be replaced by Sian Pearce.

So what does the 100-member choir feel about it?

"It's the first time in our long history that we shall have a lady musical director," said Jeffrey Harrison, choir chairman, during a chat with Tabloid at Abu Dhabi's Millennium Hotel. "We are looking forward to her joining us in January. It's going to be a new experience."

However, the boys have already given her a warm reception at one of their shows in England, he added.

Sian Pearce is a former singing teacher, who was attached to world-class organisations such as the BBC National Choir of Wales and the National Youth Choir of Wales.

Alwyn Humphreys, the man who has led the "boys who can fill a boat" for 25 years ‹ the choir is nearly 70 years old now ‹ is sanguine about stepping down from the post. "I've decided to go. I feel 25 years is a long enough time. I don't expect sympathy from anyone. The choir can now move in a different direction," he said.

A freelance television presenter at Cardiff, Humphreys believes he will have more time to himself now. "I used to be intensely busy managing my career and being with the choir," he said.

However, Humphreys hopes to stay in touch with the choir through his wife, Joy Amman Davies, the choir's pianist and the only woman in the midst of 100 men.

Warmly referred to as "the ambassadors of Wales", the choir became famous by consistently winning competitions; through their performances abroad and on television; and through recordings and hard work. They take pride in lining up 100 members as a minimum at any performance.

Anyone can join the choir as long as they have "a good ear and a good voice", said Harrison. People join the choir through friends in the choir or after hearing us at concerts, he added.

The members, who are in age group of 18 to 80 years, belong to all walks of life. There are bus drivers, bankers, teachers, civil servants, milkmen, doctors and retired professionals. They join the choir for the love of singing and to keep the Welsh flag flying high.

And how does it affect the members to sing hymns and Welsh songs? Does it make them better people? Humphreys pondered the question.

"For a lot of us, it works like a catharsis, to get rid of our tensions and stress. At the end of a working day, many choristers come to the practice very tired but despite the demanding nature of singing, they feel less tired at the end of it," he said.

Moreover, the Welsh enjoy the "community spirit" that singing in a group fosters, he said.
And yes, their music has moved people to the extent of changing their lives, Humphreys revealed. "We've had people who are moved to tears and once a woman in New York told me, 'I know what is heaven now'."

The choir boasts a wide repertoire ranging from traditionally Welsh songs to operas, American music to works of composers like Wagner.

Milestones include winning the prestigious annual cultural competition Eisteddfod in Wales nine times, welcoming Pope John Paul II to Cardiff, playing at the Queen's 50th anniversary celebrations and at the royal fireworks party in Hyde Park on the eve of the Charles/Diana marriage, appearing at the Sydney Opera House and the Carnegie Hall in New York and receiving five standing ovations at both places.

Traditionally, choirs have sprung up in countries like Germany and Austria. They grew out of a desire of workers in coalmines and slate quarries for something to enrich their bleak lives after a hard day's work.

Today, countries like Russia and Sweden are known for their choirs. Wales, with a population of 3.5 million boasts nearly 100 choirs and can be recognised anywhere in the world for their distinctive sound.

Smartly clad in chequered vests and bow ties, the 120 members of the choir filed onto the stage at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation recently. And, the city got a sample of this "distinctive voice from Wales".