Choirs sounded, music abounded and a waning moon peeked out from beneath a brilliant rainbow to greet Christmas Day at 6 a.m. for the annual Challenge of the Carols at Emancipation Garden.
Eleven choirs marched in singing and swinging, willing the rainy weather away. They didn't quite succeed with the weather, but they did keep several hundred people happily humming along and sharing umbrellas.
This marked the 23rd celebration of a Virgin Islands tradition that, although neglected for a while, is now heartily revived. This year's performance was dedicated to the memory of Mercyla Leerdam, an active force in the musical program over many years past.
Keeping time with the resounding choirs, several local musicians wound through the crowd. Among them: Rusty Velleck of Sax Cymbals, the inimitable Nicky "Mighty Whitey" Russell, saxophonist Ladd Richards, Polly and Fred Watts of Harmony Dem and pianist Sally Smith. Keeping things warm was Smokey Frett's little stand where hot bush tea and cheese and bread were dispensed to the damp but spirited crowd.
In probably the most innovative means of fending off the weather, Al LaBorde of the Party/Hardy Carolers was seen ducking under his tambourine.
The Salvation Army Songsters and Voices of Love got things under way with Party/Hardy hard on their heels. The V.I. Pride Boys Choir was a big hit, and received honorable mention. Among other voices heard were those of the Bethel Baptist Church Choir, Merry Carolers, WHMM, the Charlotte Amalie High School JROTC Chorus, the Lucinda Millin Choir and the Public Works Chorale.
Last, and almost abandoned when time was running out, came Celestino White's Hapless/Hopeless Carolers, hot from a night serenading the island. All but the leader tramped onto the stage amid lots of drums, palm fronds and general good cheer, to the tune of "All We Santas." The final Santa, White, was then led in on a donkey wearing flowers and large sunglasses. He was the only member of the troupe who appeared not to be having a good time — the donkey, not White.
The final massed choir performance didn't quite happen, as most folks had apparently gotten wet enough by that time. However, the Voices of Love and the Party/Hardy Carolers prevailed.
Concluding this year's program was something new. Brother and sister Olabayo and Oluwaseyi Olaniyi from Nigeria presented Yoruba dancing and storytelling, backed by local drummers. Finally, the crowd joined in a tramp to Rothschild Francis "Market" Square.


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