Terry Waite: Eisteddfod can bring harmony to dangerous world
Bringing harmony in a dangerous world – former peace envoy Terry Waite today described how music can be a great healer in trouble spots across the globe.
The big man with a big heart is president of the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod and is looking forward to returning to the Welsh town for the festival in July.
He hit the international headlines when, as an envoy for the Church of England, he successfully negotiated the release of hostages in the 1980s. He then travelled to Lebanon to try to secure the release of four hostages, including the journalist John McCarthy. He was himself kidnapped and held captive from 1987 to 1991.
Mr Waite became involved in the Warrington male voice choir as its patron following the IRA bombing of the town in 1993. He travelled with the choir to Northern Ireland in a bid to heal divisions there.
"The choir sang in all venues, protestant and Roman catholic and I would speak at the event – trying to find harmony in a very terrible situation," he said.
It was when the choir performed at the Eisteddfod about 20 years ago that the association with the event began.
He said: "I was at the Eisteddfod and was approached and asked to be day president the following year."
That led to Mr Waite eventually becoming president. He added: "I initially said I could not take up the role because I wasn't Welsh but the organisers pointed out that this was an international Eisteddfod, that the competitors came from all over the world and that I had international experience."
He says the values of the event are as important today as they have every been.
"It was created after World War two to bring people together who had been at war with each other. Today that is still the case. We have people from both side of a divide, often young people, who would not otherwise have the opportunity to meet. People who always had a negative stereotype attitude meet and discover that they have more in common that they realise. It is the Eisteddfod's small contribution to helping to bring peace.
"I remember when children from Chechnya came to Llangollen. They has suffered terrible trauma during the war years and after a very isolating war were able to enjoy some normality in Llangollen. They stayed in the local communities and I hope their time here helped the healing process."
"We are living in dangerous time and I don't think many countries in the world have been blessed with the most sensible politicians. Bad political decisions can lead to terrible situations with ordinary people being forced from their homes. People who think war and aggression are going to solve problems are totally mistaken. What we need are more people who will stand up for peace and reconciliation. In a small way music can bring harmony."
Mr Waite says the Eisteddfod also serves to inspire young people and help them chase their dreams.
"Pavarotti's experience at Llangollen, singing in his father's choir, inspired him to follow a career in music. The more we can encourage young people the better, especially in this day and age where science and technology is so at the forefront of their lives.
"Unless we can develop their love of the arts, music and language children are in danger of simply becoming robots and pressers of keyboards."
He praised local authorities and arts councils who support the Eisteddfod with grants.
"In the world of the arts and culture the return on a grant may not be immediate and its success is hard to quantify. In the long term events such as the Eisteddfod can play a huge role in inspiring our young people and helping them on the road to becoming valuable members of society."