Chippewa Herald * March 3, 2004

Singing Valentines are a blast, even if you don't break even

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

Have you ever had one of those days when you were running nonstop from early morning until late at night? I had a day like that on Friday, February 13. But instead of hard work, the day was pure joy, as I was spending it with my barbershop quartet delivering Singing Valentines all over the Chippewa Valley.

For the eleventh year, we barged in on offices, schools, nursing homes, and businesses, bringing "notes" of love from sweethearts.

This year we also had the pleasure of being accompanied by an embedded reporter for the first couple of hours! Candice Novitzke, a reporter for the Chippewa Herald, even got to ride in our rolling rehearsal hall from 8:00 until 10:00 a.m.

We set a new benchmark for ourselves this year: for the first time, we LOST MONEY on the day! That wasn't altogether unexpected, since we hadn't sent any email out or put up any posters until Monday, only four days before the big day. Maybe we were a bit overconfident -- we had always sold out in years past, so we waited until we returned from out of town on Monday before making the announcement that we could start taking orders.

Funny thing, though -- we really didn't care if we lost money! We always have a great time, regardless of the finances. In fact, having fewer paid gigs gives us more flexibility to do "freebies."

This year we sang for the choirs of all three of the big public high schools in the area: Chi Hi, North, and Memorial. And we got a standing ovation each time! We had been to each choir in previous years, but with our lighter paid schedule this year, we were able to make all three on the same day for the first time.

High school choirs are our favorite audiences for several reasons. First, a cappella singing is most appreciated by people who themselves participate in vocal music.

Second, we are members of SPEBSQSA -- the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America. Part of our mission is to demonstrate what used to be a popular pastime in the early 1900s, good old-fashioned four-part vocal harmonizing -- close harmony without the distraction of instrumental accompaniment.

But probably the biggest reason that we like singing for high school choirs is the reception we get. Now that we're all firmly in our forties, with our own teenagers who no longer necessarily think Dad is the coolest guy on the block, it can be quite gratifying to get enthusiastic standing ovations from a room packed with teenagers. It's the closest we'll ever get to feeling like rock stars.

In addition to singing for the high schools, we have other "freebie" traditions to uphold. We can't drive by Foreign Five in downtown Chippewa Falls without singing "Hello, Mary Lou" to the former owner, Mary Lou Pulver. We stopped in at Christensen's Floral, where we bought our roses, and sang to the whole staff there as they were busily putting together arrangements for non-singing deliveries. We sang a few at Leinie's Lodge and stopped in at the Rutledge Home to sing for old friends.

Our most meaningful performance this year was singing to David Bollom. His wife, Patti, is a janitor at Chi-Hi. She was an invaluable asset to us last year, as she took us around to where we needed to be, and even let us rest and rehearse in the teacher's lounge. She called us this year a few days before Valentine's Day to ask if we could sing for her husband at home in the afternoon, since he loves barbershop.

I started telling her that it would be easier to fit in our schedule if we did it in the morning, but she stopped me and said that she really wanted to be there when we sang to him.

"You see," she explained, "he has pancreatic cancer. This could be his last Valentine's Day." She went on to say that they want to display the picture of Dave with the quartet at his funeral.

We rearranged our schedule so we could be there when she wanted us -- we wouldn't have missed that privilege for the world.

It can be hard to sing when you're choked up, but somehow the music came out and carried us along there in Dave and Patti's living room: "What a Wonderful World." We'll never forget that moment.

In keeping with another of our traditions, we ended the day by meeting our wives at a nice restaurant, Timber Lodge Steakhouse. Showing up in tuxes always makes people curious, so of course we sang to a lot of other patrons there, too, before and after dinner. (Yes, you really have to twist our arms to get us to sing!)

Bottom line: between the gas money, the awesome steak dinner, and the Polaroid film and candy and roses that we gave away, we came out around $60 behind for the day.

But given the chance to spread musical messages of love, it was the best $60 we ever spent.

See photos of our singing valentines:


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