Quartet in harmony to be the best

JENNIFER VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 12:37 18/07/2011
musical island boys

The Musical Island Boys: (from left) Jeff Hunkin, Marcellus Washburn, Matt Gifford and William Hunkin

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A Wellington barbershop quartet have come closer to their dream of being the best in the world.

The Musical Island Boys - Matt Gifford, Jeff and Will Hunkin and Marcellus Washburn - won second place in the International Open Barbershop Championships held recently in Missouri.

Gifford, 25, who sings bass, says they are aiming for the top spot at the next international championships. "There's only one spot left to aim for, so that's the plan between now and then."

Since getting together at Tawa College in 2002, the a-capella quartet have made their presence felt on the international stage. In 2006 they were the first quartet outside the United States to win the International Collegiate Championships.

In 2010 they were fourth in the open division of the international championships, a feat never achieved by any quartet from outside Europe or the US.

Their latest placing is a huge achievement too, Gifford says. "It's a feat in itself for a number of reasons. We're probably the youngest quartet in the upper echelons . . . The competition gets harder and harder every year, especially when you're in the upper echelons - it really is the Olympics of barbershop quartets."

The Musical Island Boys are a product of the high-school music scene, and they do their bit coaching and working with high- school pupils.

"We're very aware of the fact that success in any area for young Pacific Islanders and Maori is not common, so it attracts a certain reputation and responsibility.

We believe if you set a goal and surround yourself by people who are supportive, you can achieve it," Gifford says.

He describes himself as "half Cook Island and half New Zealand Maori". Washburn is from Samoa, Jeff and Will Hunkin are both half Samoan and half Niuean.

"Our fan base has swelled over the years, we have an appeal that transcends boundaries. Barbershop quartets generally attract a certain audience, but because of our age and our cultural background, we have a wider appeal."

Shona Murray was head of the music department at Tawa College when the boys first got together, and is also the mother of their coach, Charlotte Murray.

She remembers them as "great boys, and wonderful role models" and expects them to go far.

"They're very fine musicians . . . their musical prowess just keeps getting better."

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- The Dominion Post

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