They have been one of Auckland's best-kept choral secrets for too long. Or perhaps it should be South Auckland, as the Graduate Choir is very much the result of energy and commitment conductor Terence Maskell has put into his many years as music master at Papatoetoe's Aorere College.

In 2002, they gave Peter Godfrey the sweetest of serenades at his 80th birthday celebration. Last year their Eastertide concert was a challenging selection of motets, anthems and spirituals, culminating in an uplifting performance of Five Mystical Songs with baritone David Griffiths.

If you missed the concert, as too many people did, tune in to Concert FM on Easter Monday, when the network will play its recording of the event.

This Saturday is another chance to experience the choir live, with the sound that earned them two gold medals and the Grand Prix at the 2003 Classic Sing.

Maskell admits that a major component of the sound is the fact that 19 of the choir's 37 singers are Polynesian. "They come to me with an acceptance of singing as part of their culture," he explains. "Singing is part and parcel of how they are brought up."

Harnessing this natural ability into the service of a range of music has been a challenge but, even as a school teacher, he was chuffed when his pupils took a 16th-century anthem by Tallis on to the rugby field.

"The boys wanted to keep singing it and, as some of them were in the First XV, they'd launch into the Tallis before the match instead of the traditional haka."

He also remembers how the rapper Dei Hamo was Frederick in The Pirates of Penzance in the early 90s "and sang one of the most glorious duets ever to be put on the Aorere stage, with orchestra".

The Graduate Choir has grown from the Maskell family's work at Aorere - "it was a family thing that kept going. A lot of people knew other people and it grew from there".

What is the secret of his success? Like the wise man who builds his house on the rock, Maskell says his choir has a strong bass foundation.

"It's a pyramid structure and it moves up from there. The basses drive the fundamental plus the harmonics that other singers latch on to. If there's enough grunt from the bottom there will be something for the rest to sit on."

Saturday's concert, Abendlied is "simply an evening song", Maskell says, and "a bit of a potpourri, something for everyone".

Among the classic choral repertoire by Schumann, Brahms, Finzi and Pearsall is Sau la'u teine Samoa, a Samoan folk-song setting by Christopher Marshall, that will feature a Samoan dancer.

Negotiations are continuing for a couple of ballroom dancers to whirl and twirl when the choir do I can't give you anything but love.

"I'd do it myself," Maskell suggests, with an impish smile, "but I can't be in two places at once."

In the future is an invitation to sing at the Association of British Choral Conductors in August and, before that, the Graduate Choir will record their first CD with Wayne Laird of Atoll Records.

But now it's time for rehearsal, and Maskell has to go. "They're a wonderful bunch," he enthuses, eager to be back with his team.

"We share a lot of jokes and good times at rehearsals and there's an excellent spirit in the choir. They know the music is more important than any one of us."


* What: Abendlied, by the Graduate Choir
* Where and when: St Matthew-in-the-City, Saturday, 8.15pm