As the finals of the Barbershop Harmony Society's international competition begin Saturday in Toronto, the New Zealand group Musical Island Boys will be first on stage.

The quartet, which began singing together 10 years ago while its members were still in high school, say the barbershop style taps into the passion for singing from their Maori heritage.

The top 10

These 10 groups are competing Saturday at the Air Canada Centre.

  1. Musical Island Boys 
  2. Throwback 
  3. Masterpiece 
  4. Via Voice 
  5. The Crush 
  6. Forefront 
  7. A Mighty Wind 
  8. Da Capo 
  9. After Hours 
  10. Main Street 

Musical Island Boys have twice earned a silver medal at the international competition, which is dominated by groups from the U.S.

No Canadians earned a place among the top 10 barbershop quartets which will compete on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre, but the New Zealanders are thrilled to again vie for first place.  

"I think with our culture back in New Zealand and the Maori culture, they're very much a musical culture so a lot of the stories and the old ways are passed on through music," said Will Hunkin, explaining the group’s interest in singing.

"So we take a lot of that and it's usually done in a very passionate way so we're able to bring that side of ourselves to the stage and channel it through the barbershop style."

Hunkin and his fellow singers —Jeff Hunkin, Matt Gifford and Lusa Washburn — have put six months of work into their performance. Like all the groups competing, they’re amateur singers and the international competition does not bestow a cash prize, though there are medals for the winners.

"We love all types all types of music and all types of vocal harmony. Barbershop is an example of that," Gifford said.

"And when we sing in church and when we sing in our traditional Polynesian or Maori ensembles it's all about just heart and passion because we're singing about our ancestors, we're singing about our people, we're singing about the history of our lands, things that we are very very deeply connected to."

Each group performs before a panel of 15 judges and is marked on technique as well artistic impact, but who wins depends on what each group puts into that day’s performance.

" If we were lucky and privileged enough to win first place at this contest, really what it means is that 15 people in front of you decided that on that day, at that time, you just happened to sing the best," Gifford says.

The 2013 Barbershop Harmony Society International Convention also includes a competition for choral groups.