Barbershop singing has been around in New Zealand for many years and began in Auckland in 1974 (See note 1).
In early June 1974, Ken Redwood arranged to have articles published in the Auckland Star and the 8 O'Clock about trying to get a Chorus going in Auckland. And on June 10th Neil Etherton, Ken Taylor and four or five others turned up at Ken Redwood's home for the first meeting. They decided to calll themselves the "Auckland Barbershop Harmony Club" with Neil as first secretary/treasurer. At the next week's meeting on June 17th, Dave Jackman and a couple of others including 18 year old Gary Taylor turned up.
Later in the year the membership increased, and the group began meeting in the Mt Albert Methodist Church hall. They also found their first musical director, Stuart Levy, from Avondale College. The membership eventually grew to 18, with numerous singouts, including one at the Old St Mary's Cathedral.
18 months or so later the membership declined, they only had one tenor (Dave Jackman). Neil Etherton and Dave Jackman, Gary Taylor and a bass (See note 2), kept on going as the "Bridge City Barbers" while the chorus folded.
Some time around 1977/1978 the Bridge City Barbers caught the attention of the Executive Director of the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT), Ron Richardson, and he had the idea of having a quartet roaming the park, like the Dapper Dans of Disneyland. The quartet then became "The Village Barbers". Ron wanted to get more quartets available to sign at the park in rotation and contacted McDonalds in order to sponsor a quartet. They managed to find "The Sugarcane Express" in Hawaii, and renamed them "The Merry Macs". In April 1979 The Merry Macs did a singing tour of Auckland shopping malls promoting a rally at MOTAT and Ken Redwood remembers hearing them at St Lukes.
On Anzac Day 1979 the rally attracted 60 men, including Ken. The Merry Macs and the Bridge City Barbers sang and members of the Merry Macs led the guys in half a dozen songs. From that rally the "MOTAT Barbershop Chorus" was formed.
MOTAT and Ron Richardson brought another quartet, the Fancy Dans from San Jose, who sang as the Golden Staters at the 1980 Easter Show.
When Ron Richardson left MOTAT he became executive director of the Best Western Motel group and Ken worked with Ron to get the Fancy Dans back to NZ. As the Best Westerners we toured NZ raising money for Telethon (Ken was the roadie and driver) in early 1981, and they sang on Telethon.
Gary Taylor eventually became musical director of the MOTAT Barbershop Chorus, who met regularly at MOTAT.
Sadly Neil Etherton, one of the very first New Zealand barbershoppers, died in 2018.
In the mid-80’s, the MOTAT Barbershop Chorus was re-named the City of Sails Barbershop Chorus, that became the gold medal winners on many occasions after the inception of the National Chorus contests in 1992.
Barbershop Harmony New Zealand was then known as the New Zealand Association of Barbershop Singers (NZABS) and was established in the early eighties after Choruses were stablished in Wellington in 1988 and Christchurch in 1989.
During the mid-80’s, the number of quartets continued to grow and in 1989 an inaugural National Convention was held in Wellington and a first quartet contest was won by Vocal Minority from the City of Sails. Contests have been held annually since then.
Chapters have now been established across the country and chorus contests have been held annually since 1992.
In 1994, the first of the Pan Pacific Conventions (PanPac), involving New Zealand, Australian and Hawaiian quartets and choruses was held in Auckland.
The second PanPac was hosted in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1998, attended by 320 New Zealand barbershoppers.
Since then, PanPac has been held every 3 or 4 years: 2011 in Melbourne Australia, 2004 in Christchurch New Zealand, 2008 in Hawaii, 2011 in Brisbane, 2014 in Wellington and 2017 in Sydney.
Since 1994, annual Education sessions, from a long weekend to a whole week, have been held in New Zealand to raise the quality of singing. Initially this was achieved by bringing in overseas experts but, more recently, this has also been staffed more and more by our own country’s growing number of experts, coaches and trainers.
These sessions offer individual and quartet development opportunities in singing, performance and musical leadership.
Since 1990, barbershop has been taken into the New Zealand schools.
The first National Secondary School Quartet contest for boys was held in 1992. Contests have been held annually since then.
From 1996, girls were included in the event. YSIH finals now includes both a National Secondary Schools Chorus and Quartet Contests, preceded by regional competitions.
Several quartet winners have gone on to attend the International Collegiate (University Level) Finals in the USA.
Musical Island Boys (MIB) quartet, who had grown up through YSIH, won the National Quartet Open Contest 2004 and again in 2007. In July 2006, they also won the International Collegiate Barbershop Quartet Championship.
In 2014, MIB finally achieved the pinnacle of Barbershop by winning the International Quartet Contest, having been placed 2nd during the preceding three years.
Both the City of Sails and Canterbury Plainsmen choruses have competed in the USA.
2009 saw Vocal FX from Wellington placed 10th in the Open Chorus Competition. They have since returned to better that position.
1. Thanks to Ken Redwood for passing on his record of the early days of New Zealand barberhop singing.
2. Can anyone remember who the bass in the "Bridge City Barbers" was? Email email@example.com if you know.