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Uniting countries through song

Members Chor-Farmer during their 2016 visit to Featherston. PHOTO/FILE

HAYLEY GASTMEIER
[email protected]

A chance meeting at the Japanese Embassy in Wellington two decades ago has grown into a strong bond between a renowned choir from Tokyo and the people of Featherston.

Every second year since 1977, all-male choir Chor-Farmer has been performing in New Zealand and Australia to strengthen foreign relations.

The choir has given concerts in Featherston since 2000, after being introduced to South Wairarapa by Ken Burgiss.

About 20 years ago, he had been at the Japanese Embassy discussing the establishment of a garden in Tauherenikau to honour the men who lost their lives during the 1943 incident in which 48 Japanese prisoners and a New Zealand guard were killed.

Chor-Farmer conductor and choir founder Hiroshi Masumoto was at the embassy and was introduced to the then South Wairarapa mayor John Read and Burgiss, who told them about the riot.

At the time, Burgiss ran South Wairarapa Tours.

His wife, Trish, said sometime after that first meeting, her husband picked up the choir in his bus and brought them over the Remutaka Hill, treating them to South Wairarapa’s finest attractions.

It was the beginning of long friendship.

Choir members are billeted by the community when they are in Featherston.

Burgiss is one of the founding members of the Featherston Heritage Museum, which organises the visits.

Founded in 1967, the choir comprises students and graduates of Tokyo University of Agriculture.

Members pay their own travel expenses on their biennial goodwill tours.

This year, 28 choir members and piano player Masako Yuyama will perform at Anzac Hall on September 4 at 7.30pm.

The following night, the Heritage Museum has arranged a Kiwi-style supper for the choir and the families they are staying with.

On September 6, Chor-Farmer will pay their respects at Featherston Military Site’s Sakura Garden on State Highway 2, where they will lay wreaths and sing songs of reflection.

The public is welcome to attend.

Featherston Heritage Museum secretary Elsa Kelly said a team of volunteers had spent five months arranging for the visit.

“Chor-Farmer visits have led to very strong friendships with their host families and to the breaking down of cultural barriers.”

Former South Wairarapa mayor Adrienne Staples always has two choir members staying with her.

On their 2016 visit, she made Chor-Farmer honorary South Wairarapa citizens.

“Their visits have given us two things. It’s given us a very deep understanding of the two different cultures for both sides, and it’s also developed friendships that we would not otherwise have had the opportunity to have,” Staples said.

Tickets to the Anzac Hall concert are $20-$25 and can be purchased through ticketbooth.co.nz, with limited door sales on the night.

The concert features a guest appearance by internationally-trained soprano Georgia Jamieson Emms.

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