Letter to the Editor - History of Australian choruses at the Nationals since 1993

Type of post: "In Harmony" Newsletter
Sub-type: No sub-type
Posted By: Dick Bushell
Status: Current
Date Posted: Mon, 22 Oct 2018

The BHA website has a record of all the national chorus contests dating back to 1993*. I thought it would be interesting to see how the performance has evolved over the past 25 years. The graphic in Figure 1 shows the overall contest score for each chorus in the open men’s competition. I have traced each chorus back through its various name changes and labelled it with its most recent name (see “Notes on chorus names”).National contests were biennial until Newcastle in 2016. I have added in the scores for the 2014 Pan-Pacific contest in Wellington which six Australian choruses attended.

The Blenders dominated the competition for many years winning eight times in succession. In 2003 Men In Harmony (the original video winners in 1991) gave birth to Vocal Evolution, who finally wrested the mantle back in 2009. In the same year, current champions the Festival Statesmen had their first tilt at the title competing as the Festival Youth Chorus and finishing a creditable third place. Sound Connection emerged in 2012 and after a few short years brought the title back to the Sunshine region in a very close competition in Melbourne in 2015. The trophy has never been to the Eastern region, though Sydney Harmony came very close in 2001.

Individual choruses have had their ups and downs, but overall there has been a clear improvement over the 25 years. Whereas formerly the average performance was in the low C’s, all choruses now are performing at or close to B level.
The graphic also includes the chorus size** grouped into small (20 or less), medium and large (more than 40). The Blenders presented the largest chorus ever in 2005 with 90 singers and won the competition. However second-placed Vocal Evolution with a mere 20 singers showed that even a small chorus could be highly competitive. The trend since then has been towards smaller choruses, and in the last two conventions all choruses presented fewer than 40 singers. These trends are shown more clearly in Figure 2.

I suppose the main message of the story is that 25 years ago most choruses were performing at a low C level and now almost all are solidly in the B's. The first figure shows that upward trend. Even though particular choruses may have gone up and down, the organisation as a whole has improved.  

However the graphs are really the starting point for people to make their own discoveries. For example "I remember the Blue Mountainairs – whatever happened to them?", "we came so close to beating the Clippers that year", "wow, we've come a long way since our first contest in Canberra", "we've been amazingly consistent for the last 20 years", "what is it about Melbourne? – the top 3 are only ever separated by one point!"

One final remark is it might spark interest from the data hoarders amongst us. There is a certain amount of missing information on the BHA web site (mentioned in the article) and I'm hoping people might search through their records to recover some of that information. In particular many of the earlier regional contests are not on the web site, and I'm sure there are score sheets sitting in filing cabinets around the country. Also it might transpire that some numerate members will emerge who can help with the digitisation and archiving of this material. This is the "real story": somebody has digitised those contest results so that they can be presented in various and interesting ways. This particular article simply shows two of those ways.

Nick Ellis 

Figure 1
Overall percentage contest score for each chorus for all years since 1993. Each chorus is represented by a unique colour/line/symbol combination as given in the legend at bottom. Choruses in the same region have the same colour as given in legend in top left. The larger the chorus (number of singers on risers) the larger the symbol (legend near bottom right). Convention venue is shown along the top.

Figure 2
Chorus sizes at each convention since 1993. Each dot represents a chorus, with large choruses to the right and small to the left (refer to horizontal scale). As in Figure 1 the colour represents the region. The dots have been randomly jittered vertically so you can distinguish them.

Notes on chorus names
Bayside Harmony used to compete as Bayside Barbershop Singers up to 2009; Penrith City Harmony used to compete as Riverland Ramblers up to 2001; Deep South were originally the Wellingtones up to 2005; the Blenders were originally the Banana Blenders up to 2003; Soundwaves used to compete as the Central Coast Barbershop Chorus until 2003 and as Coastal Har-men-y in 1995 (and originally in 1991 as Gosford City Barbershop Chorus); Sydneysiders Express formed in 2000 as the merger of the Sydneysiders (crosses) and Harmony Express (plus signs); Sydney Harmony formed in 1998 as the merger of Harbour City Harmony (triangles) and Broadway (diamond). The current Festival Statesmen were formerly the Festival Statesmen Youth Chorus. As far as I know this chorus is different from the original Festival Statesmen who last competed in 2001.

*There was a chorus contest in 1991, which Men In Harmony won, but the scores have been lost.
**In 1995 the sizes weren’t recorded, so in Figure 1 all choruses are annotated as small that year.