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Volume XVII, Issue 7 - February 12 - February 18, 2009
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Heart-Felt Songs in Four-Part Harmony

Barbershop quartets serenade your sweetheart

by Margaret Tearman

Love is in the air. Listen carefully and you may even hear it: a romantic serenade, sweet and sentimental, delivered in four-part harmony by a barbershop quartet.

I Love You Truly

Charles Schlagel loves a surprise, especially when he’s part of it. The baritone sings with the Sons of Severn Barbershop Chorus, so he’ll be spending Valentine’s Day surprising sweethearts throughout Anne Arundel County with singing Valentines.

John Sutton, Mario Sengco, Michael Baguley and Paul Yannuzzi deliver a Singing Valentine to Mandy Barranger of Glen Burnie. The Corner Four are one of several barbershop quartets among the Sons of the Severn Chorus.

“Two years ago I had got a call from a husband wanting to send a singing valentine to his wife,” Schlagel recalls. “I couldn’t talk to him right then and asked if I could call him back. He said he doubted I’d reach him because he was calling from Iraq. He was deployed and wanted to surprise his wife on Valentine’s Day.”

Schlagel promised the soldier that his wife would get her Valentine.

“When we showed up on Valentine’s Day,” Schlagel says, “his wife asked us to wait so she could get him on the telephone. He listened in from Iraq while we sang. Everyone was crying.”

The Sons of Severn Barbershop Chorus began in 1949 as the Singing Capital Chorus. In the 1960s, they changed their name to reflect their region’s “distinctive nautical heritage.” On Valentine’s Day, the Sons break into quartets, don black tuxedos and deliver singing valentines to sweethearts wherever she or he may be: office, restaurant, home. For $50, you buy your valentine a serenade of two songs, a red silk rose, a card — and a lifelong memory.

Don’t Call Me Sweetheart

But is a singing Valentine always a sweet surprise? Anything you do for the sake of love is risky, as David Reyno can attest. He is one-fourth of the Fathers and Sons Barbershop Quartet from Owings, singing Valentines in Calvert County for three years. Sometimes the romantic serenade doesn’t have the desired effect.

“Last year we were hired to sing to a lady at her office,” recalls Reyno. “She smiled all through the songs. But when we were done singing and told her who it was from, her smile turned to a frown. Turns out she wasn’t exactly fond of the gentlemen who hired us. But one of her colleagues cried the whole time we were singing. She thought it was so sweet.”

The Fathers and Sons Quartet is two fathers, Reyno and Jon Leavitt, and their sons, Jeremy Reyno and Jason Leavitt.

“We’re all from Owings,” Reyno says, “and we consider ourselves to be the finest barbershop quartet in all of Owings.”

The Quartet travels anywhere in Calvert County, and sometimes they venture into St. Mary’s County to deliver expressions of true love. Their $50 charge includes a single red rose, a box of red marshmallow heart Peeps and a choice of two songs from their catalog of four: “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” “I Love You Truly,” “Wild Irish Rose” and “Daddy’s Little Girl.”

Singing for Good Causes

All this singing is for a good cause.

The Fathers and Sons donate all of the money they earn singing valentines to Calvert Hospice.

“Both of my parents went through Hospice, though not in Calvert,” Reyno says. “I want to give back.”

Jeremy Reyno and Jason Leavitt sing with their fathers David Reyno and Jon Leavitt as The Fathers and Sons Quartet, bringing tears to the eyes of Cindy Roper.

Last year, Fathers and Sons raised almost $2,300 for the charity. They hope to top that figure this year.

The quartet also enjoys scattering a bit of love throughout the county. In addition to singing paid Valentines, on February 14 they plan to sing — for free — at senior residences at Asbury, The Hermitage and Calvert Pines.

In Anne Arundel County, the Sons of the Severn are singing for their group’s mission: to support vocal music programs in the county schools.

“We believe vocal music builds character,” says Sons’ director T.J. Barranger. “It helps give a sense of responsibility and makes you a productive community member.”

Profits from two fall shows went to Annapolis and South River high schools to purchase instruments and sheet music. The group’s spring performances will support the vocal music department at Chesapeake High School in Pasadena.

Barranger wants to spread the word that grassroots music is alive and well, particularly for kids who don’t know how music fits into their future. Barbershop choruses, he says, “provide a place where you can sing and have a good time.”

The Power of Song

If public displays of affection make you uncomfortable, four guys bearing roses and Peeps and singing cheeky love songs can bring smiles to even the most reticent romantic.

A singing valentine is fun. It can keep the current flame burning or rekindle an old one.

“We had a fella ask if we would deliver singing valentines to a former girlfriend he wanted to get back with,” says Schlagel of Sons of the Severn. “When we finished singing to her, she asked us to send one back to him. I guess we got them back together.”

And it’s a bargain, says Barranger. “You can spend $85 to $100 on a bouquet of roses that will eventually die, or you can spend $50 to surprise the living heck out of your sweetheart, get a keepsake and a memory that will last a lifetime.”

Sons of the Severn Barbershop Chorus: Charles Schlagel at 301-801-5637; cschlagel@comcast.net; www.sonsofthesevern.org.

Fathers and Sons Barbershop Quartet: David Reyno at 301-855-2724.


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