Not only does a singing valentine do the recipient good, it also warms the hearts of the people performing it.
Salida resident Bruce Sellnow, director of the Modesto-based Golden Valley Chorus, recalled a couple of highlights as the group prepares to offer its annual barbershop quartet “ValenGrams” on Friday and Saturday.
A quartet once set the stage for a marriage proposal at a Home Depot, for example. “She’s working the checkout, we go in and sing her a song, and then he follows us in, gets down on a knee and proposes,” Sellnow recalled. The beloved, of course, said yes.
Another time, a guy arranged for a quartet to show up at his home at 7:30 a.m. He was in a tux and had bubbly and chocolates all ready. Her? She came out in a bathrobe – but loved the surprise her sweetie set up.
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“You can’t put a price on moments like those,” Sellnow said. “Our guys love doing it for that reason.”
Members of the Golden Valley Chorus will be crisscrossing Stanislaus and Merced counties from about 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. to sing their hearts out on behalf of romantics. For $40, quartets will sing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” or “Heart of My Heart” – both traditional Valentine’s Day songs. Each recipient also will receive a silk rose and have his or her photo taken with the quartet.
“Because it’s so recognizable, we sing ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart,’” Sellnow said. “‘Heart of My Heart’ is a little more intimate, a little more personal. ‘Sweetheart’ does not have that deep, heartfelt emotion. So depending on the couple, the nature of the relationship, the quartet will choose between the songs.”
Howard Barber, 79, of Merced has been singing barbershop harmony for 46 years; he’s the associate director of the Four Tune Hunters quartet, which will deliver the a cappella messages from about 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in areas of Merced County. “It’s fulfilling and fun,” Barber, a tenor, said. “We get teary-eyed from the reaction we get from people.”
Greg Kramp, 69, of Atwater has been singing baritone since he was 14 years old. He is especially moved when he sees an elderly couple who have been married for 50 to 60 years start sobbing when they hear a singing valentine message.
Barber, Kramp, Roy Anderson of Atwater and Terrell Chambers of Merced have been delivering the singing valentines since 2005. “It’s usually a very emotional moment,” Barber said. “Only once has someone been really angry.”
The recipients’ reactions depend on their age and perhaps their location. Golden Valley Chorus quartets have delivered ValenGrams at rest homes, dental and medical offices, restaurants, schools, private homes and more. They also have delivered their poignant love messages at Stanislaus and Merced county jails.
“Classrooms are excellent,” Sellnow said of when teachers are the songs’ recipients. “From kindergarten to high school, kids eat it up. It’s nice to sing at retirement homes and senior care facilities, too. It’s a recollection of days of yore for them, it brings back a lot of fond memories.
“Some of the most fun deliveries are when a woman wants to send a ValenGram to her husband. You walk into a machine shop, where all these guys are welding. ... We always check in at a reception desk or a guard station, and the guy will call a break, saying there’s a special presentation, and all the guys will gather around.” Pretty much every time, Sellnow said, the man being sung to will turn “red as a beet.”
Sellnow compares Valentine’s Day to cookie season for the Girl Scouts. “It’s a busy time ... a big fundraiser for us. And all of our singers are investing their time for the days – guys take off work on Friday to do this.”
Golden Valley Chorus has about 35 members on its books, about 25 of them active, he said. On Friday and Saturday, the quartets will perform perhaps 60 ValenGrams. “We can do about three per hour, four if we really need to, depending on the geography – how close they are to one another. We try not to set a specific time, saying we’ll be there between 8 and 10, or 10 and noon. But if there’s a specific time needed, we can do that.”
The $40 a quartet collects for each singing engagement goes to provide scholarships for Youth Harmony Camp each September in Pollock Pines. Barber said there is a youth movement attached to barbershop harmony and young singers realize they can be a “chick magnet.”
“We’ve had screaming teenagers,” Chambers said. “The sound resonates with everybody. A cappella singing is so compelling.”
In an effort to make itself “more viable,” to attract new and younger members, Golden Valley Chorus recently relocated its rehearsal spot from Turlock to Mancini Hall in Modesto, where it meets every Tuesday night, Sellnow said. He invited anyone considering joining to stop by, or to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the website, www.gvc.org, to learn more.
“Barbershop harmony is a truly American art form,” he said. “We take singers of all types. We have some guys who don’t read music. ... We can teach you how to sing, teach you to read music.”
Anyone wanting a singing valentine in Stanislaus County should call (209) 551-2314. For Merced County, call (209) 383-3808.