Features/Q&A/Sponsored Content/Music

Building community through a cappella

2 February 2023

All-female a cappella group Perth Harmony Chorus believe everything is better together — and they would love you to join them in song.

Musical director Jen Squires says what elevates the “ordinary women with normal voices” in Perth Harmony Chorus is that together they are able to create something “amazing”.

It’s a philosophy that underpins the group’s longevity and has seen them tour the country, winning national titles, and representing Australia overseas.

Founded in the 1980s, Perth Harmony Chorus is still going strong with 60 or so members, some of whom have been performing with the group for more than 30 years.

From pop a cappella to musical theatre, the chorus performs a range of music that traverses the decades but always with a unifying spirit.

With an eye to recruiting more into the musical circle, Perth Harmony Chorus is hosting a four-week workshop this month. Greg McFerran chatted to Jen Squires to find out more.

Gregory McFerran: Tell us a bit about Perth Harmony Chorus. How did it come about?

Jen Squires: Perth Harmony has been a part of the Perth community for nearly 40 years! We enjoy a large age range, which contributes a great depth of experience, and strive for musical excellence while having a lot of fun together. 

The chorus was started in the 1980s by a group of women who were curious about singing a cappella music in the barbershop style. We are a registered chapter with the parent organisation, Sweet Adelines International, which provides a community of a cappella singers around the world. The chorus soon flourished, becoming leaders nationwide, and offering an environment of education and community for its members, as well as entertaining our community. 

GM: What makes Perth Harmony Chorus special?

JS: The secret of Perth Harmony is that it is made up of ordinary women with normal voices doing amazing things by doing it together!  As well as being a wonderfully welcoming and supportive group, we are fortunate to be able to draw on the resources of the wider national and international community for coaching, education, and events.

Jen Squires leads Perth Harmony Chorus. Photo Supplied

GM: What is barbershop? Should we be thinking Pitch Perfect?

JS: Barbershop is a style of a cappella singing (no instruments) that emphasises a united sound and close harmonies, usually in four parts with an internal melody. We value a great melody and incorporate storytelling and visual elements into the performance — you may see choreography, but you won’t see us holding sheet music.

While more traditional barbershop arrangements are used for competitions, many elements of the style can be applied to swing, pop, or musical theatre to expand our repertoire. Each a cappella barbershop chorus will therefore be unique in its personality and style. We are lucky to have had access to great custom vocal arrangements from Bill McAllister and I also arrange for the chorus, which expands our music choices even further. 

While the Disney quartet Dapper Dans is indeed barbershop, you won’t see us wearing stripy vests and boater hats! And while we do have things in common with the a cappella style of Pitch Perfect, we include more members beyond college age and tend to beatbox less. We use the term “chorus” rather than “choir” because we approach performance much like the chorus in a theatre show — a choir with attitude!  

GM: What are some of the group’s memorable moments?

JS: Perth Harmony has had wonderful opportunities over the years in both competition and performance. We have won national titles and have represented Australia internationally several times. A highlight for me was sharing the stage with popular jazz quartet The Idea of North and the Perth Salvation Army band in a combined show at the Perth Concert Hall. I also have fond memories of competing overseas (Hawaii! Las Vegas!) to crowds of thousands. 

Group size has varied over the years — especially in recent times with the challenges facing choirs during the pandemic — and yet we tend to be a place singers keep coming back to, with many members staying 10, 20, even 30 years or more.

GM: If someone is interested in joining the group, how should they go about it?

JS: We always welcome new members and singers interested in seeing what we do. Periodically we offer open rehearsals or workshop nights to share the experience of singing a cappella. In February, we are offering a four week “taster” event where singers will join the chorus in learning a new song, experience group vocal tuition, get to know our members, and explore how music is put together to create our joyful sounds. Our most common lament from members is that they didn’t find us sooner! 

It is not necessary to know how to read music — although it is a useful skill — for we offer alternate leaning tools to help you with learning the music. We do require, however, that new members all audition. We offer guidance to help you discover your potential and certainly we have wonderful members who have both sung all their lives or have only recently discovered what they are capable of! 

Membership is open to women (including anyone identifying as female) and to all ages (chat to us about school-aged guidelines). We rehearse on Wednesday evenings at the Nollamara Tennis Club. You can find out more on our website.

GM: What is expected from a member of the Perth Harmony community?

JS: Perth Harmony Chorus aims to offer an experience that is a step beyond a casual community or social choir with a greater emphasis on personal and group development and excellence. This is very fulfilling and a lot of fun! It does take some personal commitment and regular attendance. Think of it like a team sport. How much time one needs varies depending on what you can manage and how much you want to get out of this hobby. It is quite doable by setting aside Wednesday evenings and a little personal time through the week. 

We ask our singers to learn their music at home so that in rehearsal we can explore the music as a whole and work the ensemble skills. With vocal tracks available, you can listen with headphones while doing your chores or when travelling. We also encourage singers to practise their vocal and performance skills at home, just like you would when learning an instrument. 

GM: What are your plans for 2023?

JS: We start the year with our taster event and coaching retreat weekend. In May we will travel to Brisbane for our national convention and contest. Keep an eye out for a show planned for spring and we hope to participate in another SongFest weekend before Christmas once again fills the city with carolling. 

Perth Harmony Chorus workshops start on 8 February 2023,

Pictured top: Perth Harmony Chorus aims to offer an experience beyond the casual community choir. Photo supplied

This article is sponsored content.

Seesaw offers Q&As as part of its suite of advertising and sponsored content options. For more information head to

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

Author —
Greg McFerran

Greg McFerran is a postgraduate journalism student at Curtin University studying journalism. He completed an undergraduate degree in Electronic Music and Sound Design (Hons) at UWA. As a child, he enjoyed the playground monkey bars the most, mainly because he preferred to walk upon them instead of swinging underneath them — much to his mother’s displeasure.

Past Articles

  • Sky show fans embers of ancient stories

    First Lights has illuminated skies over Perth and Darwin, sharing ancient stories in modern ways. As the Fremantle Biennale project embarks on a regional tour, Greg McFerran speaks to two of its creative forces.

  • Electric dream lights new fire

    Jonathan Fitzgerald was a self-confessed snob when it came to electric guitar. Until he fell down a visual rabbit hole. The UWA Chair of Guitar tells Greg McFerran how he saw the light that led to his new album.

Read Next

  • Reading time • 10 minutesFringe World Festival
  • Carina Roberts and Gakuro Matsui in The Nutcracker How to watch ballet

    How to watch ballet

    16 November 2023

    If you’ve booked tickets to Christmas favourite The Nutcracker and you’re not sure what to expect, look no further! Rita Clarke has you covered.

    Reading time • 10 minutesDance
  • Reading time • 7 minutesMulti-arts

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio


Cleaver Street Studio