For an unforgettable gift that expresses "I love you," consider sending a singing valentine this year on Feb. 14. Sure you could mail a card or bring a heart-shaped box of candy to the love of your life, but are those unique enough to be remembered in years to come?
"You see four guys coming in tuxes carrying a rose and people are amazed," said John Morrison, lead singer for the Upside Downers quartet.
With a blend of voices, the barbershop quartet will come to a location of your choosing to serenade your valentine with two songs.
During the past five years, the professional foursome has sung at homes, offices, schools, police stations, grocery stores and even from center court at a basketball game. An elderly couple in hospice, who received the gift of music from a niece in California, held hands as the group sang.
"Once we were singing in downtown Elmhurst at a restaurant when a patron came up to us and asked if we could sing for his wife right away," said Morrison, a Downers Grove resident. "He had forgotten it was Valentine's Day."
"We've had some men who hear us and remember it's Valentine's Day and then we'd see them making a call to order flowers," said John Oberlin, the group's baritone.
Other members of the Upside Downers are Mark Johnson as bass and Bruce Rhoades as tenor.
The group always sings a number of times at Molex Inc., where Oberlin works in human resources. The Lisle-based international headquarters is a leading supplier of connectivity components, which seems apropos for the connection with a loved one that singing valentines are all about.
"We will start singing to a small group (at Molex) and all of a sudden heads start popping up from all of the nearby cubicles and then we are singing to a group," said Oberlin with a laugh.
Singing valentines are a fundraiser for the Chorus of DuPage, a nonprofit men's barbershop chorus that meets weekly in Naperville. The chorus has four quartets available for singing valentines. The groups will travel across DuPage County and into nearby areas to deliver unforgettable valentine experiences. Requests outside the area will be forwarded to other quartets across the city and country.
Dressed in tuxedos complete with red bow ties and matching cummerbunds, the Upside Downers sing valentine sentiments along with giving the recipient a long-stem red rose and a card. A basic singing valentine costs $40, but for a specific 2- to 4-hour window the price is $50.
"About five years ago we had a request from a soldier in Iraq that called long distance to have a song and rose go to his wife," Oberlin said. "Needless to say, we did that one at no cost and a number of other quartets picked up on it also. So his wife was visited by a number of quartets during the day … all at no cost."
Barbershop is a distinctive American a cappella musical genre. The melody is sung by the lead singer, while the bass sings the lowest harmonizing notes, the tenor sings above the melody and the baritone sings the notes that complete the chord. The result is a full, rich sound that needs no instrumental accompaniment.
In 2013, the Barbershop Harmony Society, which is the modern name for the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America or SPEBSQSA, will celebrate its 75th anniversary of making melodic, close four-part harmony in quartets and choruses. It began in 1938 with 26 men and has grown today to nearly 26,000 members in 800 chapters across the country and Canada.
At the society's international competition, affiliates from Sweden, Australia, Germany and others join the competition. Each group stages amazing performances reflecting the organization's motto, "Keep the Whole World Singing!"
Singing Valentines are one of the ways quartets shine.
"The best part of singing is making someone smile, or seeing tears of joy," Oberlin said. "It is making someone's day, knowing that you've given someone an experience they will remember for a very long time."
Morrison learned how much fun quartet singing could be from his appearance in a production of "The Music Man" in the role of a school board member who forms a quartet to sing "Lida Rose" and "Goodnight Ladies." He also now enjoys singing in a barbershop chorus.
"I wish I knew a long time ago there was this hobby out there I could join because it is so much fun," said Morrison, who has been in barbershop 13 years.
This year, Morrison became president of the Chorus of DuPage with its roughly 50 members. Consult its website, harmonize.com/dupage, for practice and performance dates. It offers family entertainment for every occasion.
"(Our chorus) enjoys singing for people throughout the community and not only in competitions," said Morrison. "When you sing in a group, your mind can't drift off to the concerns of the day."
The Upside Downers will deliver singing valentines and smiles throughout the area on Feb. 14. In addition to "I Love You Truly," popular choices are "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and "Love Me Tender."
Last year, the group delivered 15 singing valentines and hopes to increase that number this year. For a chance to surprise someone special, male or female, call (630) 737-9199 or order online at harmonize.com/dupage.
• Joan Broz writes about Lisle. Her column appears regularly in Neighbor.