Residents of the Compo Beach area may have thought they had the Mormon Tabernacle Choir caroling at their doors Wednesday night.
The voices resounding through the cold night air were perhaps not as skilled as the world-renowned choir, but their performance gained them at least 15 minutes of fame.
In fact, the more than 500 singers from throughout the region who turned out for a special effort called One Voice, organized by the Unitarian Church of Westport, proved to be record-setting. The carolers set a Guinness World Record for the most people singing Christmas carols door-to-door at the same time.
And the event was more than just a stunt.
The One Voice carolers also raised money for a foundation born in the ashes of a Christmastime tragedy that claimed the lives of three young girls last year -- the LilySarahGrace Fund, established in memory of Lily, Sarah and Grace Badger, who died along with their grandparents in a fire that swept through their Stamford home early last Christmas Day.
"It seemed like a cool thing to do. Besides, it's 12-12-12; doing something special on a special day, making history," said Melanie Lovern, of Norwalk.
Arnela TenMeer, of Fairfield, called it "an awesome and fun thing to do."
"This is great. I didn't know it's such a big deal," said Jay Ptashek, owner of the first house where the carolers stopped. He and his wife, Karen Elizaga, their daughter, Sloane, 9, and a group of friends stood outside to greet the singers, who unleashed an enthusiastic rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."
The carol-sing marked the second time in the last nine months that people in Westport have set a Guinness World Record. Last April, the Staples High School Class of 2014 beat by three the previous Guinness World Record for number of sets of twins in one class. The class, now juniors there, comprises 380 students including 16 sets of twins.
Even though the mass caroling was a new Guinness category, it required more than just showing up to create the record.
There had to be at least 250 participants, a minimum of 10 houses visited and at least four different streets on the singers' route. Also, carolers had only five minutes to get from one house to another, and all carolers had to be at the house before they started singing.
More than 600 singers walked the half-mile route from Compo Beach to 14 pre-designated homes on Soundview, Fairfield, Norwalk, Danbury and Bradley streets, although only 502 were included in the official count, according to organizers, since only those registered in advance were counted. They sang two songs at each front door often repeating songs from their limited repertoire, which included "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer," "Jingle Bells," "Let it Snow" and "Deck the Halls."
Children under age 6 were also excluded from the final count because Danny Girton Jr., one of two Guinness adjudicators who followed the singers to authenticate the record, said most children under that age cannot read yet and would probably not know all the lyrics.
"This is a first for me. It's special to be part of an inaugural event," Girton said. There is a record for the largest number of carolers in one place, but Wednesday's One Voice marked the first time Guinness acknowledged a record for the most singers caroling door-to-door.
The event's beneficiary, the LilySarahGrace Fund, which supports arts education in under-funded elementary schools throughout the United States, was founded by Matthew Badger, the father of the girls who died last Christmas in the Stamford fire.
Badger was in the crowd of carolers Wednesday night, but he did not make his presence known. He told the Westport News that he didn't want to take focus away from the event, which impressed him.
"I'm really amazed by it and I'm really happy and it's really beautiful. There's been many expressions like this throughout the country," Badger said. "I'm so happy there are so many kids here having such a good time."
He also said he hopes more Connecticut teachers apply for funding from the foundation.
"The cause is excellent, arts education, and to remember the three girls," said Barbara Meyer-Mitchell of Norwalk, a trained opera singer, who brought her children Nina, 6, and Tristan, 4, to the event. "And who can resist a world record?"
Peg Bishop, whose house was the carolers' seventh stop, said small groups of carolers have visited the neighborhood in years past, but nothing on the scale of One Voice.
And the timing could not be better, Bishop said. It provided a little cheer to an area that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy in October.
"It's wonderful that they planned the caroling at the beach since so many of these families were devastated by Hurricane Sandy and lost so much," said Kelly Pollard, of Westport, one of the carolers.
Bill McNee, of Westport, whose family has a long tradition of Christmas caroling, said the event served as a means of "turning a tragedy into a positive."
"It's exciting to be part of a World Record," said Joanne DeLuca, of Bridgeport.
Many people asked Girton and fellow Guinness adjudicator John Corcoran if the One Voice effort will be included in the 2014 Guinness Book of World Records. Girton could not promise them it will.
He said each book has space for about 4,000 records, but "we monitor about 50,000 records," he said. The One Voice caroling will be mentioned on the Guinness website, he said.
For more information about the LilySarahGrace Fund, visit: www.lilysarahgracefund.org