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A Creative Ensemble

Choral music has a long and varied history in Papakura. The Papakura Music Society was first established in the 1930s, at the time when the town boasted a population of around 2,000. It was reformed in 1953, after a lapse of many years. This group flourished with overflowing audiences. A newspaper report of the concert of 3 November 1965 states that nearly 900 people packed the High School Hall to hear young soloist Kiri Te Kanawa after her recent Mobil Song Quest success. However, the choir's popularity was short-lived as a result of the impact of newly-arrived television. The choir went into recess in 1967, not to re-emerge until 1974.


By the early 1970s, the Papakura population had grown to around 20,000, which qualified it for city status, a milestone worthy of many celebrations. A City Celebrations committee was formed, and the convener (the late Cliff Churchill, editor of The News Advertiser, now The Courier) asked local resident Lorna Clauson to form a cultural committee and present a programme of cultural events throughout 1975. Chief among these would be musical occasions. A local choral enthusiast, Frank Harnett, told Lorna to "Get a choir together and sing something!" This was only made possible by the willingness of various church singers to join in. Crossroads Methodist Church Trustees kindly made their premises available, and in October 1974, the Papakura City Festival Choral Group held its first rehearsal of "St John Passion" by J S Bach. The choir performed on Palm Sunday, 23 March 1975 to a packed Crossroads Church and critical acclaim in the NZ Herald. The choral spark had been re-ignited in Papakura. In November of the same year, the follow-up concert was appropriately Bach's Christmas Oratorio, and the South Auckland Music Society was established, with Grant Peterson its first president.


The formation of the Papakura Civic Orchestra in 1976 was to prove another significant advance in the local music scene, and during the next few years, the choir and orchestra worked together to present many delightful family concerts in Crossroads, where the choir still meets every week.


Winston King led the choir for the next three years, and after his resignation, the SAC choir invited guest conductors to take the many concerts performed both locally and further afield. These included the well-known organist Bill Power, Juan Matteucci, Hugh Dixon, Dr Douglas Mews (all sadly now deceased), Peter Watts, who also led Auckland Choral for many years, Bill Chessum, and John Buchanan, who led the choir for several years before leaving for the South Island.


The Choral Society has performed a wide variety of music, including Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, The Easter Oratorio, Elijah, The Messiah, and several Bach's Passions.

In 1981 the choir's title was changed from "Music" to "Choral" Society to reflect the society's singing interests more accurately. The 1980s and 1990s proved fruitful decades when John Rosser joined an illustrious list of conductors who were livening up the Auckland choral scene. Among them James Tibbles, Neil Guyan, Leonie Lawson, Terence Maskell, Ronald Dellow, Indra Hughes, Stephen Rowley, David Squire, Stuart Weightman, Uwe Grodd [MSO] and Nigel Weekes, who had arrived from Wales to take over the Dalewool Brass Band with conspicuous success in the band competitions. By now, the choir was lucky to have among its ranks the talented Myra Smith, who accompanied rehearsals, played both piano and organ for concerts and often rehearsed the choir when asked. A sideways leap into new works such as "Hear! O Israel" with Gary Daverne saw the choir move into the Hawkins Theatre for big performances where they have appeared many times since.
The society has travelled beyond Papakura to perform, giving local concerts in Waiuku, Papatoetoe, Pukekohe and Manurewa, and has shared performances with choirs in Whakatane, Napier and with the Manukau Symphony Orchestra in the Manukau Events Centre. In more recent years, the choir members have participated in events run by the NZ Choral Federation before audiences of 150,000 or more in the Auckland Domain.

Mark Rosser (brother to John) and David Hamilton, now well-established with his choral compositions often sung by the choir, also joined the guest conductor ranks, and in 2005 a new tenor soloist, Iain Tetley, came onto the Auckland musical scene. He sang solo roles with the choir for several concerts, and when Myra Smith moved from Papakura to Palmerston North, SAC invited Iain to be their new conductor, the first time a permanent Musical Director had been appointed.
During the past six years, the SAC Scholarship scheme has seen over 40 students join the ranks prior to their individual musical careers. Among them was Jonathan Dunlop, who played piano accompaniments for the choir while studying for his Music Degree at Auckland University. Moving up the musical ranks, Jonathan has acted as assistant conductor when required and took his first solo conducting SAC engagement for the mid-year 2016 programme.  Following Iain Tetley's move to Whanganui at the beginning of 2018, Jonathan Dunlop took on the Conductor and Music Director's role.
Jonathan is currently occupied with further music education.  Brief spells under Elizabeth Lau's leadership and then Simon Filice followed before Denzel Panama was appointed Music Director in January 2021. The Covid 19 pandemic meant choral singing was suspended for some time. 2023 saw our choir growing and getting back to performing. Our new musical director, David Gordon, was appointed in May 2023.

​A fuller history of the choir and other music groups in the South Auckland region can be found in the detailed history "Sweet Singing in the Choir – The Story of the South Auckland Choral Society and Music-Making in South Auckland" by Lorna Clauson.

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