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The Best Chorus in the World

The Question

“Who (or is it which?) is the best chorus in the world?” is really two questions. Do we mean the best chorus ever or the best chorus right now?

The first question is fairly easy to answer – It’s Gem City. From their first international in 1974 through 2009 (13 contests) they never came in lower than fifth – including ten gold and silver medals. From 1974 to 1996 (9 contests) they either won or came in second. That’s 20+ years of domination. I can’t imagine a strong argument for anyone other than Gem City to be named the greatest chorus ever.

The second question is much more difficult. Our first thought is to look for the most recent champion (Melodeers) because they are officially the best right now. But consider that Scottsdale has not lost since their win in Seattle in 2010. For that matter, neither have the Rich-Tones since Nashville in ’09. No one has beaten them (in fact, the Rich-Tones haven’t lost a contest at any level since 2003.) Should we then consider all three of them reigning champions in a way? Since the international championship is an honor that can only be won every third year we naturally must look beyond the most recent year to find our “best chorus in the world”.

How far back should we go then? Is three years (enough time for all the best choruses to compete at the international level) long enough? I say no.

Consider this: region 13’s Rolling Hills chorus has competed at regionals every year for the last ten years. That gives us ten scores to use when attempting to find their true skill level. However we only have four regional scores from a Harborlites or a North Metro. Granted – we do have their international scores as well, but that still only totals eight scores.

I think we need to go back a considerable amount of time to gather enough data to accurately find our answer.


The Formula

For the last four months or so I have been testing out formulas to establish a fair and accurate system for ranking all the choruses in the world. The goal was to narrow all regional and international scores down to one number – a number that would represent the chorus’s skill and ability at that particular time. This number would rise and fall year to year as new scores were added. This would allow choruses to see their world ranking change with each regional and international season.

I needed a formula that would focus on the most current scores, but not ignore accomplishments of the recent past. The perfect example of that need is found with Lions Gate and Gem City. Lions Gate has had a meteoric rise in the last seven years or so while Gem City has fallen somewhat from international contender status. While Lions Gate can certainly compete with the major powers at international, they have not yet established their perennial favorite standing the way Scottsdale or North Metro has. Gem City on the other hand should not be dropped from contention based solely on their most recent contests considering the accomplishments discussed earlier.

Therefore I have incorporated a weighted scale when ranking the choruses. The most recent scores should be worth more than older scores. The question is, after all, “who is the best chorus in the world right now.”


Here is how the formula works:

I have access to scores from only the last 17 years. I have divided them into three sections:

The last five years; the last ten years; all 17 years. (Beginning with the 2013 regional scores, I will adjust the three categories to reflect the last 5, last 10, and last 15 years. Therefore, rankings will change not only by adding new scores but also by older scores no longer being counted.)

This allows for a score from 2010 to be counted in all three categories, but a score from 1997 to only be counted once – thereby giving more weight to recent scores. Let’s look at an example:

Chorus  ’12  ‘11  ‘10  ‘09  ‘08  ‘07  ‘06  ‘05







 ‘04  ‘03  ‘02  ‘01  ‘00  ‘99  ‘98  ‘97  ‘96











Category 1 is the average of the scores from the last five years (2012 to 2008) which would be 414

Category 2 is the average of the scores from the last ten years (2012 to 2003) which would be 464.

Category 3 is the average of the scores from all seventeen years (2012 to 1996) which would be 470.2.

Then I add even more weight to the scores by allowing category 1 to be worth 50% of the final score. Category 2 is worth 30%, and category 3 is worth 20%.

414 x 50% = 207

464 x 30% = 139.2

470.2 x 20% = 94

Then I add the sums. 207 + 139.2 + 94 = 440.2

This final number is the chorus’s overall ranking score.

If a chorus has international scores as well, I follow the same formula for those. When I have the regional and international scores completed, I add them together to get one final number. This is the chorus’s ranking score. The perfect score would be 4,080.


The Star System

To further distinguish rankings from chorus to chorus, I have added a star ranking system as well. The descriptions are as follows:

A 5-star chorus is recognized as one who will win their region nearly every time they compete. They will place in the top ten at international most years and will have a ranking score of 2,800 or above.

A 4-star chorus is recognized as one who will win their region nearly every time they compete in years in which a 5-star chorus is not competing in their region. They will not regularly place in the top ten at international but will consistently appear on the international stage and will have a ranking score of 1,400 – 2,799.

A 3-star chorus is recognized as one who may occasionally win their region but will not place in the top ten at international. They do however regularly place in their regional contests. They are identified by having a ranking score of 651 – 1,399.

A 2-star chorus is recognized as one who will not compete beyond the regional level and does not regularly place in their region. They are identified by having a ranking score of 465 – 650.

A 1-star chorus is recognized as one who will only compete at regional level and will not have a ranking score above 464.

These numerical milestones are not chosen at random. They are benchmarks that are evident when the entire list of scores is viewed. For example, the 1400 mark is surpassed (with the exception of one) only by choruses that have competed at international in the last five years. 650 is only surpassed by choruses who have competed at international sometime in the last 17 years, and the 465 number is the average score of all regional third place medalists.

One note: to avoid an inaccurate ranking, I have established criteria for choruses to be included in the list –

1)      A chorus must have competed in their region at least once in the last five years as well as at least five times since 1996. This allows for enough of a sample size to properly rank a chorus. Once a chorus has five regional scores, they will be added to the list and their five scores will be used to rank them.

2)      To register an international score, choruses must have at least two intl. appearances in the last 15 years.

Scioto Valley is an excellent example of why this latter rule is in effect. They scored 2,835 in Houston for their first international score. If we used this score in the rankings, they would be among the top ten choruses in the world. Once they compete again at international, both scores will be averaged and counted.

Therefore there are 87 choruses who have no ranking as of yet.

I intend to update the rankings after each regional and international season and will spotlight those choruses that are most improved.

I would love to hear your feedback on the ranking system and, as always, if you see any errors please let me know. I hope it will be viewed as fun and encouraging to the wonderful women of SAI as they work to improve their craft and climb their way up the rankings.

Here we go:

Here are the rankings for the 1-star choruses and the 87 choruses without a rank. Tomorrow I will post the 2-star choruses. You can download this list for Excel here.



  1. Stephanie Burkhead


  2. Benjamin Edwards

    Thanks for reading, Stephanie!

  3. It’s a fascinating list and I love the way you’ve included the past. It’s well thought out.

    When you say International – will you include Harmony Classic? It seems a big disadvantage for those smaller choruses who are scoring strongly to miss out where the international scores are added on top of the regional ones.

    When you say “place” in your description of the “star” system – do you mean first place overall – would it not be better to specify it as “regional champion” or similar. I’m a 2 star chorus director but my chorus has received a divisional and/or overall medal at every contest they’ve competed in since I’ve directed them (2006).

    Great work – I do love the ideas this site comes up with.

  4. Benjamin Edwards

    Thank you, Traci, for reading and for your comment.

    I have chosen not to included Harmony Classic scores in my rankings. My reasoning is that independent of size, many smaller choruses have scored very well at international. Stockholm City Voices made the top ten in 2010 with only 39 women on stage. Granted, a chorus must win its region or score high enough to earn a wild card spot, but this can be done by a small chorus.
    You do, however, make an excellent point, and I may attempt to incorporate HC scores into the mix in the future.

    By “place”, I mean placing in the top three. To be honest, I’m not sure why I chose that mark and I realize that medals are given out for 4th and 5th as well (at regionals), but that is what’s meant by “place”.

    In the descriptions of the star levels, I didn’t determine the chorus’s rank by whether they matched the description given, but rather the opposite. I created the description by the average accomplishments of those choruses within the numerical scoring boundaries. In other words, Dunedin Harmony scored within this particular numerical range, therefore they are in the 2-star category and most choruses in that category have accomplished this criteria, so I mention it in the description. The scores are the only decider of star rank.

    Thank you for the kind words and the feedback. Please tell your friends about the site!

    -Benjamin Edwards

  5. Really fun to read and digest – thanks for doing this!

    I wonder if counting more recent score up to three times and then giving the last 5 years a 50% weight overstates the case for recent successes. Have you looked at making your three categories “last 5”, “6-10” and “11-15”? How would that affect the standings?

    • Benjamin Edwards

      Thanks Brent!

      The reason I weighted the scales as I did was because I felt it was the best way to answer the question “Who is the best chorus in the world?”. I address the issue in the article of whether we are referring to the best chorus now or the best chorus ever. This particular ranking system is intended to answer the former question.

      If we were to equally consider the three time categories (last 5, 6-10, 11-15) some important misses on the target would begin to be found such as Region 32’s Sunlight Chorus. While Asa Hagerman was the director, they had very high scores winning the region multiple times – even winning international silver in 1999. Sunlight’s scores have been lower since her departure in the early 2000s. They averaged 677 during the height of their peak while averaging around 445 in the last few years.

      Oppositely, a chorus like Buffalo Gateway, who I have ranked 12th in the world, has scored a regional average of 670 in the last five years, but averaged 582 during the 11-15 year period.

      In fact, I have been considering tweaking the “last 5” category to be worth 55% rather than 50% and lowering the 11-15 years by 5%.

      I really appreciate your comment and your visiting the site!

      -Ben Edwards

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