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Jamaican-led choir heads to White House

Published:Monday | November 19, 2012 | 12:00 AM
English Handbell Choir of the Church of the Good Shepherd in performance in New York. - Contributed

Dave Rodney, Conrtibutor

The growing acclaim of the English Handbell Choir of the Church of the Good Shepherd in the Bronx, New York is about to intensify with the arrival of the astonishing news that the choir, comprising mostly Jamaicans, will perform at the White House in Washington, DC.

"The news came as a huge and wonderful surprise to us two days ago," the Kingston-born choir director Grace Brown Barton told The Gleaner, glowing with pride.

"This would be a marvellous moment for any choir, but the upcoming trip will be even more significant given the fact that we are going to the White House with an African-American president, Barack Obama, in residence for a second term," Brown Barton added.

The 14-member choir will perform on Friday, December 7, at 9:30 a.m. at a two-hour concert as part of the White House Holiday Concert Series.

The repertoire will include more than 26 songs, representing Christmas carols from around the world. The set is expected to include a few Jamaican and Caribbean favourites, including the anonymously written spiritual The Virgin Mary Had A Baby Boy (#63 CPWI Hymnal).

The good news came as a shock to members of the predominantly Jamaican congregation of the Church of the Good Shepherd in New York.

quite the surprise

"Most of us in the group had no idea that a member of the congregation, Naomi DaCosta, a Jamaican, and her daughter, Heather Turnbull, had submitted the handbell choir's name and a Youtube video to the White House for consideration," group member Donna Hylton confessed.

Over the weekend before the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, there was a flurry of requests from the White House for more information regarding the group and its repertoire, but even at that point, most of the members were focused on hurricane preparations and were still blissfully unaware of the upcoming rare appearance. The final confirmation arrived by email two days ago.

The English Handbell Choir of the Church of the Good Shepherd performed in Jamaica last December at St George's Parish Church in Savanna-la-Mar. The group was on the island by an invitation from Reverend Canon the Honourable Hartley Perrin of St Peter's Anglican Church in Petersfield, Westmoreland.

"We are absolutely delighted to accept the White House invitation on behalf of the choir, the church and the rector, Rev Canon Calvin C. McIntyre," assistant handbell choir director, Camille McIntyre, said.

"We plan to deliver a most mesmerising selection of Christmas music to visitors of the White House," she promised.