Don't look at the camera: Southern Soul's choristers include, back row, from left, Siobhan Hope, Mark Banham, Michelley Moynes, Lizzy Green (accompanist), Kirsty Thorne, Margaret O'Hanlon, Katrina Henderson, Lisa Petrowski and, front row, Tegan Stallard, Anna Dorsey, Natasha Wilson, Nicky Viggers and Dini Siddik


A choral number written for this weekend’s RenewArt arts celebration in Queenstown reflects on the resort’s cosmopolitan nature at this vexed time for the world.

The song, being performed at Events Centre concerts tonight and tomorrow afternoon, is called Mulled Wine in May.

It’s been written by the choral director of Southern Soul, Natasha Wilson, who founded the modern soul choir a year ago.

The song’s theme stems from the fact most of its 16 or so members moved here from overseeas.

Seven nationalities are reporesented – English, German, South African, Indonesian, American, Australian and Kiwi.

“Covid has really highlighted that most of us have chosen to renew our lives here in this amazing place,” UK-raised Wilson says.

“The soong is also about the loss that comes with that, with our families back home – that kind of juxtaposition of making a new life but what we’ve left behind as well.”

The song, the first original one the choir’s sung, is “really fun to play”, piano accompanist Lizzy Green says, “and it’s quite folky”.

A chorister, New York-raised vocal teacher Margaret O’Hanlon, who co-runs the choir, says “it makes us cry”.

The song’s also being accompanied by cellist Lara Laverdure, who hails from Canada.

Wilson, who’s also a local vocal teacher, says after directing kids’ choirs and teacher choirs, she’d gained the confidence to start an adult choir.

She discussed her idea over lunch last year with O’Hanlon, who’s been involved with local community choirs before.

O’Hanlon says, “we just said, ‘you bring four singers that you’ve got and I’ll bring four singers’, and we did, and then we added on”.

O’Hanlon organised the choir’s first engagement just a month after it formed, for a local Cancer Society ball.

Subsequently, the choir’s performed at several events including the launch of the Three Lakes Cultural Trust, which has organised RenewArt.

During lockdown, Southern Soul also performed a video collaboration of American singer-songwriter Andra Day’s Rise Up, for its Facebook page, which scored thousands of views.

The singers video-recorded themselves at home in front of a laptop with accompaniment by Green in their ears.

Their contributions were then collated by choir member and videographer David Oakley.

For this weekend’s performances – and the following weekend’s in Wanaka – the choir’s taken on three new members.

“We’re keeping them because they’re so bloody good,” O’Hanlon says.

RenewArt live performances and visual arts gallery, Queenstown Events Centre, today from 7.30pm-9.30pm, and tomorrow, 4-6pm; tickets, free, from Eventbrite, koha welcome