Story: Choral music and choirs

Page 3. Developments since the Second World War

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Population growth and diversification after 1945 led to the establishment of more choirs, especially in the larger cities. Choral singing received a boost from some highly qualified immigrants, notably Peter Godfrey, who after arriving from England in 1958 conducted numerous groups, including the Auckland and Wellington Anglican Cathedral choirs, Auckland’s Dorian Choir, Wellington’s Orpheus Choir, and the New Zealand Youth Choir.

Practice with the prof

People who sang in choirs led by Professor Peter Godfrey ‘were not infrequently intimidated by his prowling presence as he sought out the out-of-tune singers and those whose preparation was not up to scratch. Rehearsal latecomers were made to feel unwelcome, regardless of who they were. Singers who did not watch the conductor received a withering stare until they made sudden and embarrassing eye contact.’1 Nevertheless, Godfrey motivated singers to reach higher standards of musical achievement than they thought possible.

New Zealand Youth Choir

National choral courses for secondary school students were run from 1966, and in 1979 a New Zealand Youth Choir was set up under the auspices of the Department of Education. Conducted in succession by Guy Jansen, Peter Godfrey, Karen Grylls and David Squire, the choir consisted of young people in their teens and 20s from around New Zealand. The choir reached an exceptionally high standard, winning various accolades and touring nationally and internationally. In 1999 it was named ‘Choir of the world’ at the International Eisteddfod in Llangollen, Wales.

Voices New Zealand

In 1998 Voices New Zealand, a chamber choir which draws from among New Zealand's best singers, including many former members of the New Zealand Youth Choir, was established. It won  international awards in its first year, has recorded for Atoll and NAXOS, and performs at national festivals and at international  choral symposia. The choir appears regularly with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. 

Can’t miss Coro

The advent of television in 1960 had an impact on many choirs, which often had to change their rehearsal nights to avoid a clash with popular serials.

Choral compositions

In the post-war years, more choirs incorporated New Zealand compositions in their repertoires, and some made a point of commissioning them. Following the example set by earlier composer Alfred Hill, attractive and sometimes demanding choral works were produced by Douglas Lilburn, Edwin Carr, David Farquhar, Jenny McLeod, Jack Body, Christopher Blake, David Griffiths, David Hamilton, John and Anthony Ritchie, Douglas Mews, John Psathas and others.

Pacific and Māori choirs

Although traditional English church music began to wane from the late 1940s, immigration from the Pacific Islands led to a growth in numbers of church choirs associated with Samoan and Tongan communities especially. Te Roopu Waiata Maori (the New Zealand Maori Choir) was established in 1989 and after going into recess for a period was revived in the 2000s. Choral singing became one of the features of kapa haka competitions.

Barbershop chorales

Another innovation was the emergence of barbershop chorales from the 1980s. The style of close harmony singing originated in the United States in the late 19th century. Four men singing lead (the melody), baritone, tenor and bass parts would form a barbershop quartet, but soon barbershop choruses, coached by a director, were set up. In New Zealand women’s choruses are usually affiliated to Sweet Adelines New Zealand and men’s choruses to the New Zealand Association of Barbershop Singers. Both organisations have links to international groups, and New Zealand choruses have achieved success in world competitions.

The Choral Federation

The New Zealand Choral Federation was formed in 1985 as a network for choral directors, with the aim of stimulating and providing support for choral singing. It organises regional and national events, including The Big Sing for secondary school choirs, and Sing Aotearoa, the national choral festival.

  1. Simon Tipping, Choir of the world. Palmerston North: Dunmore, 2002, p. 17. Back
How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Choral music and choirs - Developments since the Second World War', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 June 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 22 Oct 2014