Brian Lee, born in Busan South Korea (부산 싸나이) moved to New Zealand with his family in 1994.
His passion for singing started at Rangitoto College where he met some key people who changed the direction of
his musical life. Thanks to Mr. Steven Rowe and Mr. Siliva Gaugatao he started singing in choirs and joined a barbershop quartet.
In 1998 Rangitoto College brought in a specialist to coach Brian's barbershop quartet. The school offered the specialist payment but he did not accept it, he just did it to share his love of barbershop singing. This was Mr. Phil Skaggs (multi award winning NZ quartet champion and NZ Champion chorus conductor) who came to a high school to share his knowledge and passion with young people he didn't know. Brian's quartet came 2nd in NZ that year.
Being a migrant to NZ, Brian was inspired by his kindness and from then on in decided to pass it forward when it was possible.
This opportunity came early for Brian. In 2001 he was asked to help out with a young barbershop quartet from Mt. Roskill Grammar school via another awesome music teacher who has been helping and changing kid's live, Mei Fong. This quartet won the competition.
Following the success of the quartet, Mt Roskill Grammar school offered Brian a conductor's position for the 1st ever barbershop chorus of Mt. Roskill Grammar School. The first ever MRGS Chorus won the Auckland regional competition and was invited to compete at the national level but the group unfortunately couldn't afford to get to national convention during that first year.
So the 2nd year, determined to give the boys an opportunity to get to the national finals, Brian decided to do this with no payment, and donated everything he made from conducting back to the school so MRGS was able to attend the national convention. They won the national champion Gold medal for 3 years consecutively after that.
MRGS Boys Chorus
The success of the MRGS chorus followed after the boys left school. So with some ex-members of MRGS chorus and the support of Mt Roskill Grammar School, a small a cappella group called 'The Darktones' was formed which later became the foundation of the Pride of Auckland Chorus.
This humble beginning did not just happen, there were some incredibly generous people who have made this whole thing possible.
Kevin & Wendy Gilligan are the reason we were able to stand on our two feet. Kevin encouraged Brian and supported him whole heartedly so Brian could achieve his vision.
They were responsible for setting up the trust and getting little grants here and there to support the group. Help the group get the risers and tour.
Without these amazing people supporting the group, it would never have got off the ground to become who they were.
Many members of the Pride of Auckland chorus were taught by Brian during their high school years. At the start most Thursdays they spent singing at Karaoke bars after a full on rehearsal. This hobby and weekly fun quickly became something much more when the word got around and the group started getting paid performances.
These little successes combined with the work Brian was doing at high schools, enabled the group to be free for everyone. Brian donated everything he earned at schools to the Pride of Auckland Chorus, paying for the rehearsal venues, purple ties and sheet music.
This was Brian's way of paying forward the kindness he received at high school and offered the young students a place to hang out and make community while singing together. Brian taught in many many schools. Including his old school Rangitoto College, Long Bay College, Kristin, Mt. Roskill Grammer, Mt. Albert Grammer, Carmel College, ACG Parnell, Birkenhead College, Otahuhu College and many more, paying forward where possible.
Rangitoto College Boys Chorus
Voxette, Long Bay College
During the development of the Pride of Auckland chorus, Brian also taught the boys to pass forward what he was
offering by giving some of them skills to be able to teach school groups and paying forward the kindness.
Some of them are still following that legacy, supporting and inspiring young singers.
It wasn't all fun, they entered the annual barbershop competition and placed in the top 3 every year they entered. They also travelled on a North Island tour giving workshops to high schools in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Napier and Rotorua.
With all the work Brian was doing around the high schools all over Auckland and Hamilton, the Pride of Auckland chorus became the ambassador of young barbershop singing in Auckland. They promoted singing attracting all sorts of ethnicities and backgrounds representative of Auckland's diversity.
The group regularly performed at numerous performances from small community level performances, jazz festivals, corporate gigs to full on professional shows in large arenas such as
Westfield Style Pasifika.
In 2008, group decided to enter the 'Pan Pacific International Barbershop competition' which was held in Hawaii. Competing against groups from the Pacific side of the USA, Australia, Japan, Canada and New Zealand. There were over 2,000 singers attending that year with many quartets and choruses. The Pride of Auckland chorus won every category they entered including the open overall section. And the Haka put Aotearoa in everyone's hearts.
POA Haka created by Kriss Rapana
After this success, next natural progression for Brian was to add the female singers. In 2010 some of the boys from the Pride of Auckland and few awesome female singers friends of Brian got together and formed a new group called 'Stellar Singers'.
In 2011 the Pride of Auckland chorus filmed the NZ religious program called 'Praise Be' with Stellar Singers.
The Pride of Auckland Chorus does not exist anymore and is written here as part of the journey.
In the 6 years of its existence, this incredible group is now a distant memory but its legacy still lives on. It was one of those groups that people laughed at in the beginning, but always walked out with the only standing ovation of the evening.
This small group was built by brotherhood beyond racial differences and demonstrated that we can all respect and function as a team, regardless of where we are from and when we do, we make incredible things happen. And for Brian this experience, the idealogy, the teaching pedagogy and the legacy that Brian developed became the pillar of Stellar Singers and of any group Brian had conducted and taught at.
Brian is not a full time musician, he spends most of his time on running his business which has nothing to do
with music. Making music, conducting and teaching at high schools is and always will be a passionate hobby
for him. He continues paying it forward the generosity he received during his high schools years from
Phil Skaggs and his high school music teachers who helped to become who he is.
Please see below for some of the Pride of Auckland Chorus's achievements and video footage.