28 May 2019

Choral visionary and pioneer Guy Jansen, has died

From Upbeat, 12:16 pm on 28 May 2019

Dr Guy Jansen, the founder of the NZ Youth Choir and NZ Secondary Students’ Choir has died.

NZYC and NZSSC founder Guy Jansen

NZYC and NZSSC founder Guy Jansen Photo: Supplied

He died on Monday 27 May, on his 84th birthday.

Tributes have been posted following his death.

Jansen was instrumental in giving young New Zealanders an opportunity to have their voices heard.

He founded the New Zealand Youth Choir in 1979 after lobbying the Ministry of Education for several years for financial support. It was the first international youth choir in the world.

In 1982 he took the choir on its first international tour, performing at Wembley with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. He was also the first person to arrange the New Zealand National Anthem incorporating Māori and English words.

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He served as musical director until 1983 when guest conductor Peter Godfrey took up the position.

In the 1960s Jansen ran choral courses for secondary students. He also established the regional Choral Festival for Secondary Schools, the forerunner to The Big Sing choral competition.

In 1986 he formed the New Zealand Secondary Students’ Choir. In 1987 Roger Stevenson was appointed Musical Director, remaining with the choir until 2000.

Dr Guy Jansen conducting the first rehearsal of the NZ Youth Choir in 1979

Dr Guy Jansen conducting the first rehearsal of the NZ Youth Choir in 1979 Photo: Supplied

Throughout the 70s and 80s, Jansen was the National Officer for Music for the Department of Education, overseeing music in primary and secondary schools.

Jansen was a pioneer in choral conducting, establishing the International Summer Schools in Choral Conducting.

He also was involved in the creation of the New Zealand Hymnbook in the mid-1980s.

Jansen formed the Celebration Singers, Festival Singers and Bel Canto, the latter an audition only, professional choir based in Wellington.

Peter Averi was on the board for Bel Canto, but first met Jansen in the 1950s when Averi was the choir master at St Andrew’s on The Terrace. Jansen performed in the church choir as a “young man” before pursuing a career in choral conducting. “His aspiration was to be a choral conductor. He had the vision of a national youth choir,” Averi says. “He had a dream of a choir that would represent the best of New Zealand Voices.

“He was a visionary. He was an ideas man. He came up with a lot of ideas stimulating choral singing.”

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Academically, Jansen was a recipient of a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, Arts Council and Fulbright awards. He was the first New Zealander to study at the prestigious School of Music at The University of Southern California.

He went on to be a Senior Lecturer at the University of Queensland where he established a masters’ degree in Choral Music, as well as forming the University Chamber Singers, a group invited to the 4th World Symposium on Choral Music.

He was subsequently invited to be choral conductor-in-residence at Wheaton Conservatory of Music in Illinois, USA. He also studied at Victoria University of Wellington.

In 2011 he was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to music. In the same year he was one of the conductors of the Anthems Choir for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Dr Guy Jansen (left) receiving his MNZM in 2012 for services to music

Dr Guy Jansen (left) receiving his MNZM in 2012 for services to music Photo: Supplied

Most recently Jansen had just finished writing a book about the history of choral music in New Zealand. The team behind the book have been putting the final touches on it ready for publishing.

Karen Grylls is the head of Choral Studies at the University of Auckland. She had a close working and personal relationship with Jansen and wrote the foreword to the new book.

“[What] comes to mind is his incredible vision, relentless work and passion as an educator and pedagogue,” she says. “Guy leaves a phenomenal legacy.”

Grylls first worked with Jansen in 1975 when she was studying to be a secondary school teacher. She remembers fondly his tenacity and drive. “If he had a question, he’d ask it and wouldn’t give up until he had an answer,” she says. “We all know his impact. He was in a unique position. He was good at getting people around him who could make a difference.

“He acknowledged capability at all and every level.”

Current music director of the NZ Youth Choir David Squire also worked on the upcoming book. “It is a labour of love, a treasure trove of information, and when it is published everyone will learn so much about how we came to this point in our history,” he says. “We owe him a huge debt of gratitude.”

Squire says Jansen was always encouraging of him and the choir. Jansen would always attend the choir’s Wellington performances. “He… would always come to say hello afterwards and offer me a few welcome words of encouragement and guidance,” he says.

Auckland conductor and founding member of the NZ Youth Choir John Rosser recalls the first rehearsal of the choir back in 1979.

“I was reminded recently… of Guy’s first moments in front of the brand-new NYC on that Lower Hutt morning in 1979. He gave the downbeat for ‘Locus Iste’, we all sang the opening chord and he stopped, dropped his hands, gave his characteristic big grin and said, ‘A choir is born!’,” he says. “That comment expressed perfectly the feeling of satisfaction Guy derived from seeing something he’d conceived come to fruition. He loved the challenge, the thrill of starting a big, new and even rather audacious project and he did so, successfully, many times.”

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.


  • Founding of NZ Youth Choir