Singing God Defend New Zealand can be a stretch for many rugby fans - not because they can't sing but because the national anthem is often performed in a key designed for professional opera singers.

But University of Otago composition lecturer and prominent New Zealand composer Dr Anthony Ritchie has tackled the problem after being asked by the New Zealand Choral Federation to do a special arrangement of the anthem for the Rugby World Cup.

"It's often put in A-flat major, or even higher keys. I've put mine [lower] in G major so that it's more manageable for the average person at the game to sing along to."

Unlike the more "popular stylings" of versions played at Silver Ferns netball matches, Dr Ritchie said his was more traditional.


"I've tried to make my arrangement very direct. There's no fancy key changes and it has a strong counter melody.

"It remains traditional and dignified."

Dr Ritchie's arrangement was recorded by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and will be played at all All Black matches.

He also arranged choral parts to go with the other 19 anthems arranged by Canadian composer Peter Breiner.

His choir arrangements will be sung by New Zealand Choral Federation singers, with Breiner's pre-recorded versions, at pool matches.

"I'll be conducting the choirs at four of the games coming up in Dunedin and Invercargill," Dr Ritchie said.

Former Dunedin opera singer Jonathan Lemalu will be one of five distinguished New Zealand singers who will lead rugby fans in the national anthems before semifinal matches on October 15 and 16.

Given Otago's strong connections to New Zealand's national anthem, it is only fitting an Otago composer arrange it for the World Cup.

The lyrics to the anthem started out as a poem written by Dunedin pioneer Thomas Bracken in the 1870s, and music was later set to the poem by Lawrence school teacher J.J. Woods to create what is now known as God Defend New Zealand.

Dr Ritchie said he felt honoured to be asked to do the project.

"There's something stirring about doing national anthems. They stir the national character. I feel quite privileged to be involved with it."