Auckland Street Choir: Filling the streets with song

  • 17/09/2017

An Auckland singing group are experiencing the therapeutic powers of song, through a choir that's giving them a voice and reconnecting them with their community.

For 37-year-old Richard Turipa, being a part of the Auckland Street Choir has been a life-changing experience.

"It's brought me back out of my isolation that I put myself into and brought me back to the community."

The Auckland Street Choir formed three years ago to give a voice to the disadvantaged, a place where people who live in the margins of our society can feel at home.

Richard and many of the choir's singers know what it's like to struggle, and have lived on and off the streets for most of their lives. Other members of the group just like being there for the camaraderie.

"People like me have found a way to engage with the street community that we probably wouldn't have had otherwise, so it's building some new bridges and some understanding," says the choir's founder and musical director, Rohan McMahon.

Richard said sleeping rough and having no security took a toll on his mental state.

"Just thinking that you're not good enough, even though you pray every day that you're going to be a good person," he says.

But since joining the choir, Richard has rediscovered his self-confidence and has helped to make himself feel good again.

Australian Rohan McMahon had the idea for starting up a street choir in 2015, motivated by what he saw on the streets of Auckland since he moved across the Tasman.

"It occurred to me that there were more and more homeless people around and I thought it was perhaps possible to do something musically for and with the street community," he says.

Auckland Street Choir
The choir in concert. Photo credit: The Hui

He has a day job, as a management consultant, but McMahon's voluntary role with the choir is clearly his passion.

Regulars make up a core group of 25 and numbers have increased as word on the street spreads. They've had people in their teens going all the way up to singers in their 70s, so it appeals to all ages.

The choir meet every Tuesday night, all are welcome and although they practice at Pitt Street Methodist Mission, there's no religious affiliation - anyone, regardless of their circumstance, is allowed.

Rawiri Ngatai is credited with introducing waiata to the choir's music repertoire.

"Rohan is pleased for what work I've brought into the choir and the wairua I've brought into the choir because he felt there was no spirit in the choir at first, no wairuatanga."

The singers have formed friendships and feelings of isolation have been replaced with feeling good about themselves.

Richard feels a part of his community again and has recently moved into a permanent rental apartment. He wants to share his experience in the hope it will offer support for others going through tough times.

"I'm trying to help other people, other homeless, people that can't find their way, people who are down and out."

After performing at a sold-out concert raising money for Auckland's homeless and most vulnerable residents, McMahon has plans for the choir to record some of their songs.

"I certainly want to keep the choir going and I'd like to see us maybe do a professional recording, see if we can take ourselves up to the next level."

The Hui