Harmony reigns for barbershop boys

Now is the hour for Kiwi barbershop quartet Musical Island Boys who were judged best in the world in Las Vegas at the weekend.

The foursome required a special dispensation from the International Barbershop Harmony Society rules two years ago to be allowed to compete singing in a "foreign" language.

And so the Maori version of Now is the Hour was their swansong when the four, including former Palmerston North Boys' High School student Matt Gifford, won the gold medal at the society's international competitions in Las Vegas.

Gifford began his musical education as a members of Boys' High's OK Chorale.

The Wellington-based MIB group, which has performed eight times in Palmerston North at Manawatunes shows, has been runner-up for the last three years at the international competition, and had pledged this would be the last tilt at gold.

Manawatu Barbershop Chorus president Owen Shearer said he first heard the quartet perform 12 years ago in Timaru. The Tawa College group had just formed in 2002.

He said they had such a unique vocal quality that he predicted they would go far.

Gifford, with Jeff and Will Hunkin and Marcellus Washburn, first competed at the international awards in 2004, and two years later took out the under-25 section, the first chorus outside the United States to win that title.

The quartet continued to make their mark on the world stage, performing in Japan, Holland, Sweden and the United Kingdom as well as the United States and Canada.

"These guys had a dream to be the best in the world," Shearer said.

Then came the frustrating years, 2011, 2012, 2013, when they seemed destined to be forever the bridesmaid, in second place.

They had planned to stop after 2013, but despite work and family commitments requiring them to commute to practise together, they regrouped for one last attempt, and won.

One of their numbers was Michael Jackson's Childhood, but Now is the Hour was the patriotic favourite.

"It was really incredibly moving to hear it," said Shearer, who watched the live stream from the awards.

The triumph was witnessed by fellow Wellington competitors Vocal FX, who placed 10th and raced to the front of the auditorium to perform a haka in their honour.

The winners were apparently overcome, and the cameras made a rare swoop of the audience to record the off-stage drama.

Manawatu Standard