Their friends might be writing rap lyrics or dropping beats, but a group of Dilworth School pupils say they unexpectedly discovered the sweetest music of all when they joined the New Zealand Secondary School Students Choir.

"I thought choir was lame … before I joined," admits Sam Brown, 18.

He and fellow Dilworth boys Lorance Tupa'i, 16; Takerei Komene, 19; Siosifa Vaitohi, 17; Viliami Likuohihifo, 18; and Viliami Lutui, 18; say they didn't think they would have such good times or learn and do so much.

Nor did they believe they'd tour Hong Kong and Shanghai and get mobbed by hordes of teenage fans impressed by their singing in Māori, Mandarin and Samoan. Their Facebook posts, showing hundreds of Asian singers learning Pacific action songs, have been shared multiple times.

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Dilworth students Takerei Komene, Lorance Tup'i, Morgan King, Viliami Likuohihifo, Sam Brown, Viliami Lutui and Sifa Vaitohi. Photo / Mark Tantrum
Dilworth students Takerei Komene, Lorance Tup'i, Morgan King, Viliami Likuohihifo, Sam Brown, Viliami Lutui and Sifa Vaitohi. Photo / Mark Tantrum

The boys might have been a tad reluctant if you told them the trip, to the Belt and Road World Choir Festival, would end with them being stranded in China by a typhoon. Then again, they seem calm about the dramatic ending to their two-week tour, saying it was all part of the experience.

"And who knows when we'll get to go to China again?" says Likuohihifo.

Now their two-year tenure with the NZSSC is over and the country's national choir for 14-18 year-olds wants new members. The Dilworth boys are quick to sing the praises of the choir, saying when they joined (and some acknowledge it was because of persuasion from teachers) they never expected to gain so much from the experience.

A two-year membership in the NZSSC is billed as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to learn from top New Zealand vocal teachers and consultants, meet other young singers from all over the country and perform classical and contemporary music nationally and internationally.

The choir meets for rehearsals and performances every school holidays in one of the main centres, with an international tour towards the end of the two-year membership term. It began in the 1960s as a choral course for high school pupils and had its first performance in 1967. Twenty-one years later, it morphed into the NZSSC and is now regarded as one of the world's leading youth choirs.

Takerei Komene has gone from singing with the NZ Secondary Schools Choir to studying music at university. Photo / Janneth Gil
Takerei Komene has gone from singing with the NZ Secondary Schools Choir to studying music at university. Photo / Janneth Gil

For Likuohihifo and Komene, being in the choir has been truly life-changing. Both now study music at the University of Auckland while Komene is the Auckland Youth Choir's conducting intern. They're hopeful of enduring careers in music, following in the footsteps of fellow NZSSC alumni like opera singers Jonathan Lemalu, Christopher Bruerton, Anna Leese Guidi and Madeleine Pierard.

Internationally acclaimed tenor Simon O'Neill goes as far as to say being in the choir, as a school boy at Ashburton College, was the catalyst for an operatic career that sees him performing in some of the world's most magnificent concert venues.

While the others aren't sure whether music is in their careers, they say they've made lifelong friends and garnered skills that will last them just as long.

To audition for the NZSSC, candidates need to be fulltime New Zealand secondary students and apply online before September 21 at: www.nzsschoir.com/membership. For audition enquiries, contact Anna Bowron, executive officer, nzssc@xtra.co.nz