History

HAMILTON HAIR RAZORS CHORUS – MIGHTY RIVER HARMONY CHORUS

AN HISTORICAL CHRONOLOGY
28 January 1992 – 28 January 2012


Compiled and presented by Bryan McKenzie
28 January 2012 on the occasion of the 20th birthday celebration in the
Centennial Lounge at Te Rapa Racecourse, Hamilton


The barbershop style of music in Hamilton had its origins in 1990 when a double quartet under the guidance of Jill Rodgers performed some barbershop songs at the post-election review in November and the annual Christmas Review at the Agricultural Research Centre at Ruakura.  History shows this was well received by the audience.

Enthused by this newly found music form, in 1991 Jill organised for a quartet and herself, as coach, to travel to Auckland for the NZ Men’s Barbershop Convention.  The quartet was aptly named the ‘Ruakura Barbershop Quartet’ being persons associated with science at Ruakura.  Those in the quartet were Harold Henderson, Peter Schaare, Robin Ord and Doug Edmeades.  Jill had learnt to her eternal sorrow, which she was not allowed under the competition rules to sing with the men.

However Jill and the quartet were so enthralled by their experiences at the Auckland Convention, they returned to Hamilton determined to develop and bring to the fore in this area the craft of a cappella singing in the barbershop style.

Jill duly set about bringing this ambition into effect.  At that time, she was able to gain the support of an American Lloyd Smith who was at The University of Waikato and had great singing skills and much experience in barbershop having sung with the famous and champion Vocal Majority Chorus out of Texas. Lloyd had also formed a quartet in 1991 with Ken and Walton Holmes and Rob Carpenter that had performed once at Alandale.

These plans culminated to the point that at 7.30pm on Tuesday the 28th January 1992, a small group of male persons plus Jill (and Anna in the womb) gathered in the main seminar room at the McMeekan Centre at Ruakura, Hamilton and so was formed on that day, the Hamilton Hair Razors Male Barbershop Chorus.

The chorus quickly grew in numbers to about twenty.  However, within the first couple of weeks Jill left us temporarily as she was pregnant and so arrived Anna who we are proud to have with us tonight along with Jill.   We quickly learnt the pole cats and soon we had to learn, with actions, the song Sixteen Tons.  That was a great number.  It’s a pity it dropped from the chorus repertoire.  I am sure there are still a few who would remember the words.  Bill Grogan’s Goat was another special.
           
The chorus, of course, needed some attire for sing outs.  It was left it to a female to decide the colour and so it came to be that the chorus acquired the famous pink shirts with the HHR Logo.  There is one on display here tonight.  It is told that Graham Bates loves his pink shirt so much, he still has it and sometimes goes to bed wearing it. 

Soon after, Harold’s wonderful Mum Val who was a superb seamstress was in overall charge of creating our first formal attire being the red and black waistcoat, which is on display.  Jill’s Mum Audrey, Lynn McKenzie and others helped Val with the creation of the new outfit.



HHR soon had their first booking for a sing out.  It was at a Dementia home for the elderly in Hamilton.  HHR did their best to ensure they remembered our performance with affection.  Most of the early sing outs were at such places and they were a good training ground.

In those early days the four part harmony was still new to most and the chorus came to rely heavily on Lloyd Smith who could sing Lead, Tenor or Bari and if he could not make a sing out, there was some initial panic.   Jill decreed the chorus had to take personal responsibility for their part.

Those members present can recall on that first rehearsal night meeting a guy with a great bass voice named Walton Holmes.  A few weeks later there followed total confusion for many, when this other male of seemingly identical age and looks arrived for a chorus rehearsal. He was named Ken Holmes.

As time went on it got even more confusing when Walton’s identical twin sons Murray and Richard arrived on the scene and Walton’s other son Cam also had joined the chorus.  The Holmes dynasty remains with the chorus to this day and as a family they have had a tremendous beneficial influence within the chorus.

In late 1992, the NZABS convention was held in Wellington.  HHR managed to get a muster of about 18 singers to travel there for this the chorus’s first convention.  The chorus was not permitted to sing in the chorus competition being of unknown quality.  HHR had two quartets compete Science of Sound in the open and Quaternity in novice.

The highlight for HHR was on the Sunday afternoon, at a public show when permitted to sing one song.  HHR performed Sixteen Tons with actions.  It seemed to impress the audience somewhat because HHR got a standing ovation and it obviously made the experienced barbershoppers from throughout NZ realise that Jill’s boys were no mere novices and had arrived on the barbershop scene.

HHR continued to grow in number.  1993 was the start of a great and everlasting liaison with the then, and currently, NZ Champion City of Sails Chorus.  Our own Gary Taylor was their MD in those days.  HHR travelled to Auckland and they came down to Hamilton to assist with the craft.  The Hamilton Chorus remain forever indebted to them for that support they gave in those early formative years.

In late 1993 HHR travelled to Christchurch for the NZABS Convention.  The chorus competed formally for the first time.  A fourth placing was achieved. Holmes Accord won the novice section quartet competition. 

That year HHR got ambitious and decided to put on a public show.  The chorus had members who had experience with theatre and show organisation.  It was held at the Trustbank Theatre in Clarence Street.  The City of Sails chorus and quartets including the NZ Champion Quartet Vocal Minority featuring Gary Taylor, Phil Skaggs, Paul Hopley and Dave Jackman came down and performed with HHR.  The theatre holds 625.  It was a sell out and there were dozens turned away when the full house sign went up.  HHR shared the proceeds with City of Sails.  They were very impressed with the organisational abilities of HHR.

During 1993, HHR decided to become a bit more formal.  Prior to that HHR had operated, successfully with an appointed committee of four.  On the 21 February 1994 the first Board meeting is recorded by minutes taken as having taken place, such board having been elected rather undemocratically over celebratory Xmas drinks.

In July 1994 HHR again put on a show at the Trustbank Theatre.  The City of Sails and Vocal Minority plus Dean Fenner’s quartet Cut Above and the champion NZ female quartet Perfect Timing performed along with the newly formed Waikato Rivertones and HHR.  Again it was a full house and some people were turned away.

It is recalled that Walton and Ken Holmes went up to the next COSs rehearsal with their share of the net proceeds amounting to several thousand dollars and presented it to them.  So taken were they with the second sizeable cheque they had received from HHR they gave the Holmes boys a standing ovation.  COS obviously had the view that although HHR mightn’t sing as good at them, their theatrical organisational skills were impressive.

That year, 1994, the chorus attended the first Pan Pacific Convention in Auckland.  HHR was placed second in the NZ Chorus competition behind COS.  That was a great result.  HHR received another bonus during the mid nineties when the late Denis Conrady, an experienced and highly qualified barbershopper from Texas and who was a friend and work colleague of Lloyd Smith, made Hamilton and HHR his home away from home for several years.  He was a great mentor and singer with HHR on the risers. 

In 1995, three years after being formed, HHR was entrusted with the NZABS convention.  It was held at Founders Theatre.  HHR were not fortunate enough to be given a headliner quartet from the States.  However the convention was extremely well organised and run thanks to the coordinating efforts of Jill, Harold and John Spencer.  HHR chorus was again placed second.

As part of the advertising for the convention and show, the writer approached a friend who was, and still is, a sports reporter for TVNZ.  The reporter put him in touch with the producer for the Paul Holmes Show that followed the TV One 6 pm news.  They were not remotely interested in anything to do with the Convention but what they were able to be sold was the fact that HHR had five singers with the surname of Holmes and amongst that five were two sets of identical twins.  Paul Holmes jumped at the uniqueness of that aspect.



So some 17 years ago in 1995, off the Holmes clan went to Auckland and here is a recording of that event.

In July 1996 HHR hosted an International Show at Founders featuring the San Jose Garden City Chorus.  HHR also billeted them.   Again there was a great audience attendance of between 800 – 900 patrons.

Over the years HHR gathered many loyal and generous loyal sponsors who assisted financially with these types of events including members of the chorus.  On a lighter note, in the sponsor’s acknowledgement for that show in 1996, Richard and Andrea Holmes Agricultural Spraying firm was a sponsor and then rather spookily, the next sponsor shown is Pellow’s Funeral Home.  It is recalled that Richard often did claim that their spray was very potent.

During the early formative years, the chorus was in great demand.  The chorus regularly sang the national anthem at the opening of Fieldays and being shown doing such on the 6pm national news on TV.  It also performed for various firms who had displays at Fieldays.  During those events the chorus often earned very healthy sums of appearance money.

HHR sang at the opening of the Litchfield Dairy Factory.  There were seven thousand people in attendance that day.  The chorus appeared regularly in many charity concerts at Founders Theatre and continued throughout the years being in constant demand to give paid performances to non-charity groups and organisations

Back in the nineties the chorus also appeared by way of a studio interview and performance on the then local Hamilton Television Show.  In later years the chorus also appeared on the ‘Praise Be’ television programme from a recording in 2006.

In those early formative years, Ken Holmes did a sterling job as Treasurer.  He kept the books financially healthy.  It is not clear who has guarded our finances more closely, Ken Holmes or more latterly Graham Bates.  They both have that great accounting characteristic that is, being extremely prudent in all matters involving the chorus finances over these years.

In 1995 the HHR chorus became an incorporated body pursuant to the Companies Office Statutory requirements and later also attained charitable status with the IRD. 

In the mid-nineties the Board funded the costs involved to send the MD, Jill to the USA for further tuition and experience in the craft.

In 1995, another era started with the joining of the chorus by a character the chorus came to know as Jenkx.  The late Ian Jenkins threw himself into everything he became associated with great gusto.  He was the ultimate organiser and control freak.  He was into everything and through his efforts; fundraising in the late nineties was quite phenomenal.  If anything needed doing in terms of chorus activities (other than what Harold H handled) Jenkx would have it done by yesterday.  He spent a lot of his own money and a huge amount of time for the chorus.  He was a complex character but during his time, he had a major influence on the activities of the chorus.   

In 1996 the Convention was in Wellington.  The Ritz, former International Gold Medallists were the headliner quartet from the USA.  For whatever reason, they were also the judges for the competitions.  But not all were qualified judges.  In a totally confusing manner, the announcements of placings after the chorus competition, was ‘The winner of the chorus competition is HHR’.  Although the chorus was thrilled at this outcome, the way it was done was an anti-climax and to this day that achievement has never been recognised in any tangible way by way of a certificate or medals.  There were murmurings from other choruses about the result and the fact that not all judges were certified.  The HHR quartet No Time Flat featuring Duane Wallace and Ian Hawthorn won the novice quartet competition.

In 1997 the convention was in Christchurch and the chorus gained a 3rd placing.  That year a quartet from the chorus was in the musical Music Man which has the song Lida Rose in it.  The name of the quartet at that time was River City Sound and as a coincidence the Musical is set in River City, Iowa.  The show that year was again at the Founders and the feature act that year apart from the men’s and women’s choruses were the 1997 NZ Champion Quartet Garden City Sound from Christchurch.

In 1998 HHR travelled to Hawaii for the Pan Pacific Convention aided by healthy travel subsidies given to each member thanks to the fundraising activities by Jenkx.  The chorus gained a 4th placing there. 

In 1998 HHR put on the annual show at Founders and had Gary McCormick as special guest and MC.  By this time it was getting difficult to attract sufficient numbers to that 1200 seat theatre.

In 1999 Jill left the chorus to spend more time with her quartet 4th Avenue.   Duane Wallace took over as the MD.  Lloyd Smith had already returned to the USA.  That year also saw HHR in the new smart blue formal tuxedos which are still used at this time. 

As a result of Jill’s departure, the Chorus brought a Coach Jeff Taylor out from Canada to give it and Duane tuition.  He was here for a month prior to and during the convention in Palmerston North.  HHR chorus did not perform up to expectation there being placed 4th.

What made matters worse for Jeff Taylor was that one evening he had given Jill’s 4th Avenue quartet coaching at the house where he was billeted.   The 4th Avenue girls had given Jeff a box of beautiful Kiwifruit Chocolates.  He later put them upstairs on his bed.  The hosts and coach went out for dinner and when they came back he was highly distressed… the prized and very intelligent poodle of his hosts, had kindly removed the box from its wrapping and demolished all of his special chocolates.

In 1999 HHR hosted a very successful show back at the Trustbank Theatre featuring a visiting chorus from Sweden named the Vocal Vikings.  The Vikings had a spectacular performance package.  Again HHR were able to share a healthy proceeds cheque with the visitors.

The convention in 1999 was in Rotorua organised by COS.  Who will ever forget, of those amongst us still, the sight of grown men on stage resplendent in their specially made bear suits, a sample of which is on display tonight.  It was rumoured that the local armed offenders squad had been put on alert after someone had reported the presence of a large pack of bears at the theatre venue.  We placed 4th that year.  It is also rumoured that Jenkx, who did not enjoy being anything but looking like a straight up the middle bloke, disposed of the great bulk of the costumes over a cliff on his way home. 

Our show in 2000 was also at Trustbank Theatre and featured HHR, Phoenix Rising from the Canterbury Plainsmen Chorus, the 4th Avenue quartet and the Waikato Rivertones now under the direction of Barbara Smith.  The convention that year was held in Palmerston North and HHR achieved a 4th placing.  It is noted from the records that membership in that year 2000, stood at 53 members.

In 2001 the Pan Pacific Convention in Melbourne coincided with 9/11 in the USA and the Twin Towers catastrophe.  HHR competed amongst the turmoil prevailing at the time and achieved a 4th placing.  A quartet from HHR was awarded the trophy for being judged the most entertaining quartet.  In later years quartets from MRH have achieved that same award on two further occasions.

In 2002 HHR celebrated their 10th birthday with a function at McKeekan on a rehearsal night and that year saw another major change in that HHR were fortunate to secure the services of  Gary Taylor as our MD and who remains in that role to this day.

In 2003 a major development occurred with the chorus undergoing a name change after much discussions and Mighty River Harmony came into being.   That year the chorus was again entrusted with running the NZABS convention.  Once again the chorus put on a very well organised convention and public show with the Reveille Quartet from New York as the headliner quartet.   Our public show that year was in conjunction with the NZABS public show featuring the Reveille Quartet and was held at Founders.  MRH chorus achieved 5th placing that year.


The chorus has continued to take part in every convention both in NZ and also the Pan Pacific events.  In 2004 the convention was in held in Christchurch being a Pan Pac  event.  HHR chorus achieved a 4th placing.

With the drop off in audience numbers, the chorus shifted the venue for their annual show, to the superb facilities at Waikato University Performing Arts Centre where they remain to this time.

The 2005 convention was in Napier where MRH Chorus was placed 2nd.  In 2006 it was in Auckland and MRH was placed 5th.  2007 in Dunedin and chorus was placed 3rd.  2008 there was a Pan Pac in Hawaii in which the chorus attended.  There was no NZ chorus competition that year although the chorus did combine with POA, COS and HAP and won the large chorus competition.  In 2009 the convention was held in Wellington and MRH Chorus was placed 2nd.

In 2010, MRH again hosted the NZABS convention at Founders with the USA Masterpiece Quartet as the headliner act.  MRH was placed 3rd in the chorus competition.  In 2011 Brisbane hosted a Pan Pac competition and MRH achieved a 3rd placing.  At that convention the talented MRH quartet Gridlock achieved 2nd placing in the NZ open quartet competition thus continuing their rise up that ladder over the past few years. 

Since the late nineties, the chorus has, through the coordinating efforts of Colin and Barbara Smith, played a pivotal role in the development of the Young Singers in Harmony programme throughout the Waikato.  The annual regional YSIH competitions organised by the Smiths, are extremely well organised and attended.

Such organisational skill and management of theatrical matters came to the fore in 2010 when Colin and Barbara organised and coordinated the NZ YSIH competition at Founders Theatre running the quartet and chorus competition on the one day culminating with a magnificent parade of champions’ show that evening attended by a capacity and unbelievably rapturous audience.

So MRH/HHR have now reached the day where on this day the 28th January 2012, the chorus attains the milestone of twenty years of existence hence the reason for this gathering and celebration.  The membership stands currently at 68. MRH is a strong chorus.  Over the past twenty years there have been highs and lows in terms of competitive results.

However the strength of a chorus cannot be judged solely by competition results.  This chorus should be, and is, rightly proud of its many other achievements over the years.  In terms of strength of membership numbers, its all-round organisational ability, its financial soundness, its service to its community and the fun and camaraderie that has and does exist within the chorus, the chorus has every reason to be proud of where it stands today. 

Throughout these twenty years, apart from a brief sojourn when it tried out for some months the facilities at the Lady Goodfellow Chapel at the University, this chorus has had the benefit of having the use of the McMeekan Centre at Ruakura for its rehearsal activity.  This chorus must always remain grateful and respectful to the management at Ruakura for the use of such a vital component of chorus activity.



 The chorus of today owes much to those who pioneered the formation of this group and who guided it through those early years.  It is clear that without the drive and ambition of Jill Rodgers in achieving her goal of forming a barbershop chorus, this 20th celebration would not be taking place. 

A major contributing factor in the organisational and management success of this chorus from the 28 January 1992 – 28 January 2012, has been the guiding hand of one man.  He stands before you as the epitome of everything that is good in a human being.  I refer to of course Harold Henderson.

His contribution over the years in every manner of means is absolutely inestimable.  Apart from his great bass voice, he always has a smile on his face and a song in his heart.  It could be said that he seems to live for the chorus.  On occasions he has also died for the cause, although fortunately Cam Holmes always had his battery operated jumper leads to kick start his broken heart again when they performed their famous quartet comedy piece.

If there was a Knighthood within the barbershop movement, he would be known as Sir Harold.  However, we all know that he does not seek recognition and continues to go about serving this chorus in his amazingly efficient and unflappable style. 

Over the past twenty years, this chorus has had large numbers of singers come and go and of course many have stayed.  The chorus has offered to all of those persons, the opportunity that many would probably have only dreamed about.  They have been given the chance to be involved in the rich tapestry of life that is music and song and to perform on stage in front of live audiences.

The chorus therefore recognises honours, and pays tribute to all of those persons who have played their part in contributing to the chorus over the past twenty years. It matters not as to the extent of each person’s contribution.  All were important in being part of cementing in place the wonderful legacy created by the vision and wisdom of Jill Rodgers which commenced on that Tuesday the 28th January 1992.
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