By Mellica McPherson-Ganda
Every Christmas, the friendship and kindred bond that is shared between two sister Virgin Islands territories is strengthened with festive carols and melodious serenading as the Voices of Love choir of the United States Virgin Islands travel faithfully to the British Virgin Islands to share holiday joy.
The Voices of Love choir has for more than 30 years traversed the stretch of water that divides the two Territories to visit the homes of many Virgin Islands families in continuation of the festive serenading and caroling tradition.
Mary Harley, a member of the Voices of Love Choir told The Island Sun newspaper that the group has good vibes for the British Territory: “We have a lot of members who have ancestors from Tortola, and most of us have family ties to the BVI in general.”
She explained that although the group makes various caroling appearances in the USVI during the Christmas holiday, the BVI is always a longed for visit: “It is a way of spreading joy not only in St Thomas but Tortola, and the BVI where we have connections.”
This year the choir travelled to the BVI on 17 December and was able to partake in the Premier’s Christmas Around World. Other stops included the Methodist Church Manse, as well as the homes of Urma Creque, Colin O’Neal, Ottley and Keturah Crabbe, Charles and Jenny Wheatley, Ishma Rhymer and family, Robert Mathavious and family, Denzil Cline and Family, before concluding the grand tour at the home of Romeo Cameron and family.
Each year the choir commences its serenading at the home of their hosts Algernon and Agnes Mathavious and from there Mr. Mathavious transports them to the various stops.
How it all Began
The BVI segment of the Voices of Love’s Christmas caroling tradition commenced from a conversation that Mr. Algernon Mathavious (a local calypsonian) had with the leader of the group, fellow calypsonian Glen Kwabena Davis. He said that Mr. Davis had learnt serenading from the late David Cline, and during the conversation the idea came up.
Mr. Mathavious invited Davis and his group to serenade in the BVI; and recalled that the first visit took place in 1980, and from then to now he looks forward to transporting the choir.
Over the years, Mr. Mathavious said, people have and continue to request that the Voices of Love visit their homes: “Teacher Jenny would bake her tarts and proudly state — this is for the Voices of Love,” he told The Island Sun.
The Warmth of Christmas
Until recent years, the home of former Legislator Hon. Eileene L. Parson was a traditional stop on the serenading route, and both Mrs. Parsons and the Voices of Love choir stated that the visits were always memorable.
In an interview with The Island Sun, Mrs. Parsons disclosed that she knew most of the members of the Voices of Love from her days of youth in St Thomas: “Some were my St Thomas blood family,” she said.
The iconic former legislator shared that over the years the visit was a true highlight of her Yule tide: “I looked forward to the visit and prepared for them. Honestly they always gave me that Christmas feeling.”
Mrs. Parsons said that it is obvious that the choir is professionally trained as it is noted in the way their voices blend together as they sing. Over the years, it was a joy to hear their renditions of hymns she knew, and some she came to love.
Now Mrs. Parsons said that for personal reasons and with a heavy heart she is unable to host the Voices of Love choir when they serenade annually: “It is only because I am unable to entertain them as I used to that they no longer come; but I miss the warmth they brought. In fact, when they used to come I always hated to see them go, but I knew they had to serenade elsewhere. It was a joy preparing for them.”
“They reminded me of the carolers of my youth…In those days you would never hear them enter your yard, but the melodious blend of their voices as it wafted would wake you, and because you knew them, you opened your home to them. That part of our culture is lost, now we don’t really know the people so you would be wary to open your home.”
She also shared that in those days Main Street was the only area carolers would not go door to door, but instead Mrs. Parson said that the carolers would sing along the street where the homes lined.
Nonetheless, Mrs. Parsons stated that the culture of caroling and serenading is not totally lost as some groups still faithfully carry on the tradition; and have already indicated that she will be hearing their singing during this Christmas season.