Valengrams make hearts hum in barbershop harmony
We all remember the scene. John Cusack’s character in Cameron Crowe’s 1989 film, Say Anything, legendarily attempts to get the attention of his love interest by holding a boombox above his head and blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” outside of her house.
The tradition of making such grand romantic gestures lives on, thanks in part to groups like Santa Cruz’s Gold Standard Chorus (GSC), a chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, which was founded the same year that Say Anything hit theaters.
Though GSC hosts a variety of events each year—such as “Sing For Your Life,” a benefit concert for local high school music programs—it’s their annual tradition of delivering Valengrams (singing Valentines) to lovebirds throughout Santa Cruz County that sets them apart.
This February ritual—practiced by Barbershop Harmony Society chapters around the world—allows locals to publicly display their affection for loved ones by sending a co-ed quartet to the recipient’s home, workplace, favorite restaurant, or other location, to serenade him or her a cappella.
“It’s always a secret,” says Dale Summer, associate director of GSC and the person responsible for arranging its 27 members into traveling quartets. “The people that we’re singing to never know that they’re going to get a Valengram … sometimes they cry, sometimes they’re so embarrassed, and sometimes they just bask in the spotlight.”
In February of 2012, Summer estimates that GSC received more than 40 Valengram requests. “[Valentine’s Day is] an excuse to just tell the person that you love how much you love them,” she says.
After five years of delivering Valengrams, GSC member Nancie Barker is convinced that the tradition is one of the best and most original demonstrations of love.
“I think it’s very different,” says Barker. “It’s not the standard box of candy. It’s not one of these gifts that you’d like to re-gift if you could. You get something that’s meaningful, and personal, and one of a kind, because every performance—every time we deliver a Valengram—it’s a little different from the one before.”
Though the setting and recipient’s reaction always varies, each Valengram delivery follows a similar format: For $40, a barbershop quartet will sing two classic love songs—“Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and “Heart of My Heart”—with a four-part harmony, in addition to handing the recipient a fresh red rose from Trader Joe’s in Capitola, a handmade greeting card crafted by GSC member Beverly Wesley, and a pin that says “Your special someone sent a quartet to sing for you on Valentine’s Day. Everyone should be loved that much.”
Dan Jett, GSC secretary, recalls when his quartet was once hired by a local father to sing to his two young daughters. When the quartet arrived at the family’s home, the girls were still bathing; but soon after, they joined the chorus in the living room, wearing only towels.
“The little 3-year-old wasn’t quite clear on the concept of staying covered up,” Jett says with a laugh. “She kept dropping her towel so often, but they had a wonderful time with the songs. I joked that this was the only Valentine we delivered that was so effective that the recipient disrobed in front of us.”
A separate Valengram delivery stands out in GSC member Kim Orloff’s mind.
“We delivered one a couple years ago at a liquor store where [a] gal worked,” Orloff remembers. “She was in her early 20s, and she was just floored that her boyfriend would do something like this. He got about a zillion points.”
For Joe Pedota, bass singer and member of GSC for 11 years, Valentine’s Day and barbershop music are a match made in heaven.
“It’s the best thing you could ever give to a loved one,” he says. “You can give them candy, you can give them diamonds … but when they are sung to—with two old, old beautiful love songs showing full emotion, and with a quartet where everyone is in formal dress—it’s something to experience.”
The Gold Standard Chorus delivers Valengrams from 5-9 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 13, and 9:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14. To reserve a Valengram, contact Roy Prevost at 818-7954. For more information about The Gold Standard Chorus and their events, visit scbarbershop.org. To locate a barbershop chapter outside of Santa Cruz County, visit singingvalentines.com. To learn more about the Barbershop Harmony Society, visit barbershop.org.