At the time of its inception, the choir was called the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Choir. Its founder, Miss Doris Ramsay, was a VAD nurse at Montecillo Convalescent Home for Soldiers in Dunedin. The choir’s primary objective was to provide entertainment in the form of Christmas carols to patients in hospitals and homes throughout the region. Decades later, the Red Cross Choir has progressed far beyond their initial aims. Today, the group plays a pivotal role in residential welfare work and fundraising support for Red Cross throughout the Otago region. 

Carols and camaraderie

Today, the Red Cross Choir is made up of 28 passionate, inspired, wise-cracking women who come from all different walks of life and all different ages. Most members are referred to the choir by someone they know. They, in turn, might recruit another friend or family member to join in the fun. But, what do they have in common? And why do they stay? 

"We’re all here for the love of singing, really," says one member, who has been with the choir upwards of 15 years. 

“My mother’s in the choir,” says another. “She’s coming up on being a life member – more than 30 years. That was how I got introduced to the group.” 

Camaraderie plays a big role in the culture of the choir itself, with most members referred by friends and staying for the social experience. Several members have been with the choir for more than 30 years. 

“One lady, who retired last year, had been with the group for 42 years,” says a member. 

“Another shifted to Christchurch to be with her family, and she’d been with the choir for 45 years.”

A meaningful impact

The Red Cross Choir puts on an annual concert – usually in October – to raise funds for New Zealand Red Cross, averaging about $500 in donations per concert. This money helps support the organisation’s Migration Programme and local Youth Emergency Preparedness Programme. Post-concert, the choir spends the remaining summer months singing in rest homes throughout the region as yet another way to give back to the community. They visit around 15-20 rest homes every season. 

“One time, we sang for a group of residents with dementia,” says one member. 

“Apparently, they’d been very restless all day, so when we arrived the nurses warned us they’d had a bad day and we shouldn’t expect too much. As soon as we started singing, we had their attention. One resident sang with us – every word – and others got up and danced about the room.

"We go to a lot of rest homes, but that night was very special. It was so rewarding".

Members of the choir at their weekly practice.

Merriment and memories

Although they are based in Dunedin, the Red Cross Choir does not restrict itself to the outer city limits. Sometimes, they go on tour. 

“The choir travels a bit,” begins one member. 

“The road trips are a highlight,” says another. 

“You haven’t done anything if you haven’t been on a road trip with the Red Cross Choir,” adds the first. 

At the first mention of “road trips,” the room immediately fills with the type of nostalgic laughter that makes you wish you’d been part of whatever memory the group is sharing at that moment. What is it about these road trips that makes them so special? 

“Oh, the girls have a lovely time on the bus.” “The day in the bus!”

"What happens on the bus, stays on the bus."

“Some of them get dressed up in wigs and glasses – all sorts of crazy things go on in the bus.” 

“Unless you’re in the back seat.” 

“Oh, the back seat’s terrible, isn’t it?”

A hopeful harmony

The enduring spirit of the Red Cross Choir is infectious. After spending just a few hours in their presence, you can’t help but find yourself enamoured by each and every one of them. Watching them perform, the joy that they bring to audiences is equally as catching. 

Feeling inspired? Want to get involved?

Contact your local Red Cross branch to find out what they’re up to, and how you can join in on the fun.