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World Choir Games Brings 11,000 Singers To Auckland

Auckland will be in full voice next month as 11,000 singers hit venues around the city for the World Choir Games.

Around 250 choirs from more than 30 countries, representing a diverse range of choral music styles, will compete across 52 categories.

The philosophy behind the games is unity in fair competition through song, based on the idea that music can act as a bridge between countries and cultures.

Christine Argyle is chief executive of New Zealand Choral Federation, the host organisation for the games, and told Saturday Morning's Susie Ferguson that it is the "Olympics of choral singing".

The competition was split into open and championship categories, with choirs having to qualify for the latter.

"Either they may have been in another international choral competition and won some medals, or they're well-known in their own country, they've had a recommendation from their equivalent of us, the NZ Choral Federation."

The open category welcomed any choir, of any genre, ability or experience, she said.

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There would be more than 30 jurors in the competition, with a panel of five or so judging each section. Winners were awarded gold, silver or bronze.

"Honestly, I went to the games last year in Korea, and it really does have all the hype of the Olympics, with a big opening ceremony and a big closing ceremony... those are going to be at Spark Arena in Auckland... and they'll be big, they'll be choreographed."

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At the award ceremonies, many choirs would be in their national costume, and winners often came to the stage with their flags and sang their national anthems, she said.

"Singing is a great thing to do for the soul. We sing when we're happy, and singing makes us happy."

The physical and mental benefits of choral singing were well-documented, she said.

"[With] choral singing... - or any kind of group singing - when people come together, and sing together, and breathe as one, and share in the emotions of the music, it's very much a team effort.

"It's about the overall effect of the group, not one individual person, and to some extent you have to subjugate your own ego and your own desire to be a star.

"And if you're too soloistic as a choral singer then the choir won't sound well-blended, it won't sound very good so it's very much a team effort."

Recently, the NZ Choral Federation surveyed its members about their experience of the Covid-19 lockdowns, and their effects.

"So many of them talked about what they missed in terms of community, in terms of mental health and wellbeing, because that was a big part of how they stayed positive in their lives, how they got connection and so on."

Ferguson asked in the face of another spike in cases of Covid-19, what measures were being put in place to prevent the World Choir Games from becoming a super-spreader event.

"We're very aware of that, and it was something we had to manage when we came out of Covid, and started running the Big Sing ... where we required choirs to test and to let us know if they was Covid in choir."

Interkultur, the German company that organised the global competition, have health and safety policies in place to manage infection and protocols around illness during the event, whether that involved members staying away, or masking during the event, she said.

Out of the 250 choirs, there would be 55 New Zealand groups from all over the motu, from Dunedin to Kaitāia.

There were also choirs from all around the world, including Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and Uruguay.

Every night during the games there would be one or two celebration concerts, held at venues ranging from Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell to Aotea Centre and Auckland Town Hall.

For the celebration concerts, three international choirs and one New Zealand choir had been selected to be showcased.

There would be two Night of the Dragon concerts, including the Guangzhou Little Petrel Children's Choir.

"They're pretty amazing for a children's choir. Honestly, some of these children's choirs I heard in Korea are absolutely stunning ... and they look amazing in their national costumes."

The choral kaleidoscope concerts would showcase adult choirs from around the globe, including the Delaware Choral Scholars from the US, the Festival Statesmen barbershop group from Adelaide, and the Consonus Vokalensemble from Switzerland, which were "breaking the boundaries of choral repertoire", Argyle said.

Choirs would be judged on a range of criteria, she said, including intonation (singing in tune), presentation - "that's a big part of the games, it's not just people standing with their eyes glued to scores" - and authenticity when singing indigenous music.

Among the choirs attending were Doubtful Sounds, led by RNZ Concert's Bryan Crump. "They'll have a ball and and people will love them. I've heard them a number of times and think they'll go down very well."

Not all the choirs were doing it to compete, she said. Many were just there to "be part of it all and get some really useful feedback".

Among the workshops open to members of the public were two by Deke Sharon, the musical director for the hit Pitch Perfect films, who would be running A Pitch Perfect singalong, and another on a cappella singing. The workshops were a good opportunity for people to go along and hear some of the jurors giving their top tips for singing and conducting, Argyle added.

The World Choir Games are on in Auckland from 10-20 July.

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