Seven Sharp's Hilary Barry farewelled one of the great passions of her life when she accepted a job as a television news reporter in 1993.

Fulltime work, and turning 25, meant Barry could no longer sing with the New Zealand Youth Choir - but on Friday, she'll dash from TVNZ's central Auckland studios to Parnell's Holy Trinity Cathedral for a reunion with the group that meant so much to her.

The choir, founded by the late Guy Jansen, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year with a star-studded concert followed by, for its current 50 members aged 18 – 25, a South Pacific performance cruise.

Along with Barry, choir alumni includes international opera stars Simon O'Neill, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Anna Leese, Jonathan Lemalu and Madeleine Pierard and Sol3Mio members Amitai and Pene Pati and Moses MacKay. Barry won't sing, but will speak about the good times she had as a young singer which included a tour to the US and Canada.

"Every school holidays – back then it was the May and August school holidays – members travel from all around the country to rehearse and sometimes tour. I remember the summer of 1990 as a particularly special time because we performed for the Queen at Waitangi and at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Auckland with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.


"I love singing especially choral singing," says Barry, whose favourite piece of choral music is Georg Schumann's Herr, erhore meine Worte. "There's something quite special about singing with other people and the feeling the vibrations of other people's voices and hearing the incredible harmonies you make together.

"To be able to express yourself in song is so good for you; it lifts you mentally, emotionally and spiritually and when you spend so much time singing with the same group of people – and touring with them and sharing accomodation and experiences – you form really close bonds."

She says a recent Seven Sharp story, where she and fellow presenter Jeremy Wells auditioned for roles in the musical Les Miserables, had her recalling how much she loves singing and misses being part of a choir.

Hilary Barry (nee Pankhurst) stands centre stage with the NZ Youth choir on the steps of Nelson Boys College in 1992.
Hilary Barry (nee Pankhurst) stands centre stage with the NZ Youth choir on the steps of Nelson Boys College in 1992.

"Even if you don't - or can't - do it professionally, I would say try to keep singing with a choir as a much-loved pastime."

Friday's concert features Pasifika music and new takes on well-known Christmas songs, including a new arrangement, Nova, Nova, Ave fit ex Eva, by Igelese Ete. Former NZYC member Ete helped create the soundtrack for the Disney hit Moana, worked on Lord of the Rings and is now head of performing arts at the University of South Pacific.

However, Barry may face some ribbing from her Seven Sharp costar Jeremy Wells who, she says, never misses an opportunity to tease her about choir singing. But Wells could be in the minority, with evidence pointing to the fact that more New Zealanders sing in choirs than play rugby, and the 40th anniversary trip may inspire more to join.

NZYC members will sail aboard the cruise ship Ms Maasdam for a 17-day tour of the Pacific which involves two concerts at sea for 1150 passengers and performances in Tonga, Niue, Fiji and New Caledonia. In each destination, the choir will perform new musical arrangements created by its own Pacific members or local composers. Current music director David Squire says the choir's first ever Pacific tour is a reflection and celebration of the choir's diversity and a tribute to Pacific music.

The measles epidemic in Samoa forced the cancellation of performances there.


Choral music goes large:

The New Zealand Youth Choir in Concert: A Christmas Journey, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Friday December 6 December. This month also sees the launch of the book Sing New Zealand – the story of choral music in Aotearoa by Dr Guy Jansen, who died earlier this year. In July 2020, Auckland hosts the 12th World Symposium on Choral Music which will bring up to 3000 performers and presenters to town for 10 days of talks, masterclasses, workships, demonstrations and public performances.