Meet Fergus – the 2024 Composer in Residence at Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand!

Originally from Taupō, Fergus Byett moved to Hamilton in 2019 to study Classical Performance (Piano) at the University of Waikato. With the support of a Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship, he completed his undergraduate studies under Katherine Austin, and in 2023 he completed his Masters under Dr. Rae de Lisle. In the same year, Fergus won the University of Waikato Concerto Competition, Bach Competition and Chamber Music Competition, as well as Recital and Concerto classes at the 2023 Hamilton Competitions. His compositions have won national awards, including in the ‘Compose Aotearoa!’ Composition Competition, and in 2024, he currently holds Composer-in-Residence roles with Choirs Aotearoa and the Auckland Youth Choir. He has also completed several commissions for community ensembles in the Waikato. He is a collaborative pianist at the University of Waikato, where he has also worked as a music theory and piano tutor, and he is a founding Artistic Director of the Waikato Youth Choir. Fergus is one of the organists at the Waikato Cathedral Church of St. Peter, where he has accompanied the Cathedral Singers since 2023. As a Summer Research Scholar, Fergus also worked on an article which has now been published in the British Journal of Music Education, and he is a fluent speaker of te reo Māori, having recently completed a Level 7 Diploma through Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

Fiona Wilson has just been announced as the inaugural 2024 Assistant Conductor for Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand, the body that governs our four national choirs. This new role is part of a dedicated annual mentoring programme that will see Fiona working one-on-one with acclaimed New Zealand conductor and Choirs Aotearoa Artistic Director, Dr Karen Grylls (CMNZ). The programme is designed to develop future choral leaders for Aotearoa, and Karen will actively mentor Fiona for 12 months.

“The role of Assistant Conductor was hotly contested,” says Karen, “The calibre of applicants was impressive, which bodes well for a healthy future for choral music in Aotearoa. I’m delighted to announce that Fiona is the successful candidate for 2024. Many of the choirs she’s led have won competitions, here and overseas, and in April 2023, she represented New Zealand in the Conducting Masterclass at the World Choir Games in Istanbul.”

Fiona has been Head of Music at Westlake Girls High School for ten years during which time she’s earned the school half a dozen gold medals at the highly-competitive Big Sing Finale – New Zealand’s national choral festival for secondary schools. Fiona is also a singer and is currently a soprano in Voices New Zealand, our premier national chamber choir. Fiona has toured with Voices to the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Germany and performed with internationally acclaimed artists Eric Whitaker, The Kings Singers and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, here and overseas. In her new role, Fiona will also work with Voices NZ as a conductor, including at the Compose Aotearoa workshops later in 2024 when she will work with the winners of the national choral composition competition.

“I’m excited to be selected for this new role and look forward to working with Karen Grylls, the other national choirs’ music directors and, of course, the talented members of our national choirs,” says Fiona. “I’ve always worked hard to empower singers to explore a diverse range of vocal colours and expressions and ignite a profound appreciation for music, enabling every member to thrive as both an artist and an individual”.

As well as Fiona’s work at Westlake Girls’, recent highlights include last year conducting competition pieces with Voices NZ and composers at CANZ Composers Workshop in Wellington and working with community choirs for the Northland region local community. In 2022, Fiona shadowed Karen Grylls as Chorus Master for Voices NZ in concert with Eric Whitacre and his award-winning work, The Secret Veil. In 2021, she was Chorus Master for Voices NZ in concert with the APO for ‘The Blue


This year, Fiona’s been the Chorus Director for the recent New Zealand Opera Summer School and coming up soon, Fiona will be leading workshops and performance to open the Auckland Arts Festival in Choirs Aotearoa’s event Waiata Mai.



More about Fiona Wilson & Dr Karen Grylls

Fiona Wilson

Fiona has a Bachelor of Music from Auckland University, a secondary teaching diploma from Auckland College of Education and a Master of Arts in Music Education from the University of London Institute of Education (2002–2006). She is trained in the Kodály method of teaching music.

Fiona was a member of the BBC Symphony Chorus, London (1997–2001) with the choir included in annual concert programming for the BBC promos and touring to Istanbul and Vienna. She is a current soprano in Voices New Zealand choir and toured internationally including to the Tolosa International Choral Competition, Spain (1998). Fiona was a member of the New Zealand Youth Choir (1991–1996) and toured to the World Symposium of Choral Music in Sydney in 1996 and the World Symposium of Choral Music in Vancouver in 1993.

As director of the Westlake Girls’ choir Cantare:

2023: The Big Sing Finale: Gold Award. Best Performance of Choral Art Song (joint winner)

2023: The Big Sing Auckland Regional: Best Festival Programme by a Female Choir. Best Performance of an Unaccompanied Work

2022: The Big Sing Finale: Gold Award. Best Performance of Choral Art Song

2022: The Big Sing Auckland Regional: Best Festival Programme by a Female Choir

Best A Cappella Performance in Any Genre. Adjudicators Award for any Performance of a Single Work.

2021: The Big Sing Auckland Regional: Best Festival Programme by a Female Choir.Spirit of the Festival Award.

2019, 2018, 2017: The Big Sing National Finale: Gold Awards

2018: Concert with Toronto Children’s Chorus on New Zealand tour

2017: National Choral Conference and ASPIRE Music Festival, Brisbane – Best Performance Award

2016 & 2015: The Big Sing National Finale: Silver Awards

As director of the Westlake Boys’ and Girls’ choir Choralation:

2023: The Big Sing Finale: Gold Award. Auahi Kore Performance Award for Best Performance of a piece with text in Te Reo Māori

2023: The Big Sing Auckland Regional: Best Festival Program by a Mixed Choir. Adjudicators Award for any Performance of a Single Work

2023: Concerts with Auckland Chamber Choir, APO, recording and featured in the NZ film Tinā

Dr Karen Grylls CNZM

Karen founded Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir in 1998 and is its artistic director. Karen was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2023 for services to choral music. She led the NZ Youth Choir to international recognition as Best Mixed Choir at the 2007 Cantonigrós International Music Festival, Choir of the World at the International Eisteddfod and Overall Best Choir at Cantat Grand Prix in 1999. Karen was appointed Kaitiaki of Te Whānau Wehi and Waka Huia in 1999, bringing Māori music to the forefront of choral performance in New Zealand for more than two decades. She is founding director and Conductor Emerita of the University of Auckland Chamber Choir, having been principal conductor from 2006 to 2022. She established the University’s postgraduate choral conducting programmes in 2006.

Karen is also co-Artistic Director of the New Zealand Children’s Choral Academy founded in 2022. From 2002 to 2008 she was a Board member of the International Federation of Choral Music and has been a Founding Board member of the New Zealand Choral Federation since 1985.

CANZ seeks to protect and honour the national taonga of Te Ao Māori both when we perform with our national choirs and in our day to day operations.

We aim to:

– increase our usage of Te Reo Māori in our daily operations, publications and concerts

– publish an Interculturalism Policy

– develop and enhance relationships with Māori composers

– ensure all music that is attributable to, or derived from, Māori composers and lyricists is used with proper and appropriate permissions, payments, and attributions

We won’t always get it right and recognise there is a lot to do, so we welcome your ideas or feedback about how we can improve our approach.

Please contact us at or, or feel free to have a chat with us when you’re at our next concert!


Ka manaakitia, ka whakamānawatia hoki e CANZ te taonga o te ao Māori ina i ā mātou whakaaturanga me ā mātou mahi o ia rā.

Ka whāia e mātou:

– te pikinga o te whakamahinga o te reo Māori i ā mātou mahi o ia rā, ā mātou whakaputanga, ā mātou whakaaturanga hoki.

– tētahi kaupapahere whanaungatanga te tuhi.

– te whanake me te whamana i ngā whanaungatanga ki ngā kaitito Māori.

– ngā kaitito me ngā kaiwhakaari Māori te whakamana ki ngā whakaaetanga tika, ngā utu tika, ngā mihi tika hoki.

Kāhore mātou e tika ana i ngā wā katoa, ka mutu, e mōhio ana he nui ngā mahi kei mua i a tātou nō reira e pōhiritia ana ō whakaaro mō tō mātou whanaketanga.

Hena koa kia whakapā mai ki a mātou ki ki rānei, e pai ana hoki kia kōrerorero ki a mātou i ā mātou whakaaturanga.

Chair of the Choirs Aotearoa NZ Trust, Amanda Barclay, expressed the organisation’s gratitude, saying, “It’s been our privilege to benefit from Dr Karen Grylls’ expertise through her musical direction of Voices New Zealand and the NZ Youth Choir, and as Artistic Director of all four of our national choirs. Karen is a tireless promoter of choral music and brings a great deal of heart to her unrelenting pursuit of choral excellence. On behalf of the Trust Board, I congratulate Karen on this well-deserved honour.”

Reflecting on this significant recognition, Dr Karen Grylls shared her deep appreciation for the opportunity to contribute to choral music in New Zealand, saying, “I am deeply honoured to receive the CNZM in the King’s Birthday and Coronation Birthday Honours, 2023. I consider myself very privileged to have worked and performed with so many choral musicians, and to be a voice for choral music in Aotearoa.

In receiving this award I acknowledge these many musicians and colleagues who have supported me along the way: composers, singers, stage directors, international and national conductors and pedagogues and the many managers who have made it happen. This award honours them also.”

Dr Karen Grylls’ passion for singing and its transformative power has been a driving force throughout her career. “The opportunity to have worked with and trained ensemble singers and conductors over several decades as part of my long-standing work with Choirs Aotearoa NZ has given me the greatest opportunities which I acknowledge here with heartfelt thanks.” She expressed her hope that young musicians feel empowered to lead and become global musical citizens themselves.

As Dr Grylls looks forward to the immediate future, she eagerly anticipates the upcoming tour with Voices New Zealand and Chamber Music New Zealand. The tour, titled ‘Reimagining Mozart,’ features a new full-length work by composer Robert Wīremu for choir and instruments promising to be a captivating exploration of Mozart’s timeless Requiem from a fresh perspective.

We extend our warmest congratulations to Dr Karen Grylls on this well-deserved honour. Her unwavering commitment, extraordinary talent, and visionary leadership have elevated choral music in New Zealand and beyond, leaving an indelible impact on the cultural landscape.


For media inquiries, please contact:


Arne Herrmann

Chief Executive
Choirs Aotearoa NZ

027 276 1751


About Dr Karen Grylls:

Dr Karen Grylls is an acclaimed conductor and the Artistic Director of Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand. She established the renowned Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir in 1989, which she continues to lead. Dr Grylls’ pioneering efforts have made an indelible mark on the international choral music landscape, and her visionary leadership has shaped the future of choral excellence in New Zealand.

  1. Commission new works

The national choirs regularly commission work from New Zealand composers which they perform publicly, take on tour and often record. To promote a musical legacy for the choral sector in New Zealand we have also established an annual composition competition for composers under 30 years of age, Compose Aotearoa!. Support from Amplify Collective makes commissioning new work possible and enables us to create meaningful opportunities for established and emerging composers.


Manager, NZ Secondary Students’ Choir

Wellington based

(part-time 0.6)

 If you like variety, travel, and working in small teams for something utterly beautiful, read on!

After nearly 13 years in this job, our staff member has decided to change roles within our organisation. We are looking for a new team member to manage all activities of the iconic New Zealand Secondary Students’ Choir.

We are working out of a groovy office in the Wellington Central delivering the management of our three internationally-awarded national choirs (New Zealand Youth Choirs, Voices New Zealand and NZSSC).

Your role would be to manage the logistic preparation and planning of all NZSSC’s activities, travel arrangements, scheduling and administration. You would also tour-manage these choirs within New Zealand and occasionally overseas and lead the touring party and artists on the road. If you like good systems, have attention to detail and work well with creative people, this job could be yours. Work experience with secondary school aged teenagers highly preferred!

This is a fantastic opportunity to work for an iconic national organisation and grow as an arts manager in New Zealand’s vibrant creative sector.

You can find more info about this role in this JOB SCOPE

Get in touch now or send your application to no later than Wednesday 19 January 2022.

We had a wonderful tour down south to Christchurch and the West Coast back in April, and our thanks to everyone who made it happen. We did get rained on a little, but luckily singing isn’t an outside sport! Our three public concerts were packed, and we had the eyes of the world on us at South New Brighton Primary School, when a video of our performance there went viral and received over 280,000 views from a truly global audience. We received comments from Ireland, USA, Newfoundland, UK, Scotland, Germany, Belgium, Australia, Brazil, the Bahamas, Poland, France, Iceland, Netherlands, Philippines, South Africa and more!

Follow the link below for a recap video of the tour, with footage from our school visits, pop-up performances and concerts.

Read more here

NZYC’s choir leaders are senior positions of responsibility in the choir who are there to assist, support and unite the choir both musically and pastorally – and they’re always there to lend a hand to the staff while on tour.


What are you watching, eating and listening to right now?

Bianca: Eating chicken and cranberry pizza, listening to the Jersey Boys soundtrack, and keeping a watchful eye out for a courier delivery!

Peter: Watching Invincible and Midnight Diner. Eating a lot of homemade egg sandwiches at uni. Currently jamming out to The Days pt.2 by my incredibly talented friend (and NZYC alumnus) Jack Page.

David Squire was a member of NZYC from 1985-1991 and a founding member of Voices NZ in 1998 before he became NZYC Music Director in 2011 (the first alumnus conductor of the choir); Michael Stewart has been a member of both NZYC and Voices NZ and became NZYC Deputy Music Director in 2017; and Dr Morag Atchison currently sings with Voices NZ and became Vocal Consultant to NZYC in 2008!


The Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand Trust governs three national choirs with great domestic and international reputations – NZ Secondary Students’ Choir, NZ Youth Choir and Voices NZ The associated Choirs Aotearoa Foundation Trust manages an endowment fund to provide long term financial support to the charitable activities of the Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand Trust.

We are looking for new Trustees with specific skills for the Choirs Aotearoa Foundation Trust.

The Foundation has been well established with a simple structure and a modest investment base. We are looking for people to help take things forward with new ideas on how we might grow the fund to provide for the long term security of the choirs as well as providing the support to enable broad access and participation in our national choirs. We may also be looking for someone to chair the Foundation Trust in the future.

We are looking for skills in the areas of investment management, marketing and/or communications and community networks to oversee and grow the current invested funds, through bequests and donations.

We’d love to hear from you and invite you to send your governance CV to by 18 June 2021.

If you have questions you can contact the current CANZ Chair at