Written by Betsy Abraham, email@example.com Thursday, 06 February 2014 11:01
Looking for a gift outside of the heart-shaped chocolate box? Something beyond the sappy sentimentality of a Hallmark card? The Nassau Mid Island Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society delivers sweet romance with just a few notes.
The local chapter of the Society has been bringing couples together through its Singing Valentines program for over 20 years. This year, four tuxedo-clad barbershop quartets from the organization will go all over Nassau and Western Suffolk to sing “Heart Of My Heart” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” to love targets at workplaces, homes, schools, care facilities and other locations.
“It’s been a successful and rewarding program,” says the Nassau Mid Island Chapter musical director Maurice Debar. “You never know who you’re going to sing for, but we always get an emotional reaction.”
The unsuspecting recipients, who include women and men of all ages, are usually pleasantly surprised. Responses range from smiles to tears. This year, the chapter expects to deliver anywhere from 30 to 50 singing valentines from Feb. 12 through 14.
Not only does the Valentine’s Day program delight lovers and their beloveds, it’s one of the group’s most highly anticipated events. For chapter president and Westbury resident George Seelinger, the program even changed his view of Valentine’s Day.
“I never thought much about Valentine’s Day, I just thought it was a day for Hallmark to make money,” he says. “Since I’ve been doing this, I’ve changed my mind. It’s very rewarding when you make someone’s day just a little bit better for a while.”
The Nassau chapter has been around for 64 years and, with a chorus of almost 40 voices, has grown to be the largest of its kind on Long Island. The repertoire includes everything from oldies, to patriotic songs to more recent numbers — all performed a capella in a four-part harmony. Because barbershop quartets rely on each individual voice, singing in tune is especially important.
“In barbershop, our goal is to create at least one more note, so you have five notes with just four singers,” says Debar. “It’s a phenomenon of physics, that if you put two tones together, the two tones will add up and produce a third tone. But it only works if you sing perfectly in tune.”
Jon Ayers has been a member of the chapter for five years and has sung with other chapters of the Barbershop Harmony Society for over 40 years. He lends his wide-ranging voice to both the chapter’s chorus, in which he sings bass, and one of its quartets, in which he sings tenor. Ayers says singing with the Mid-Island Chapter allows him to bond with others in a special way, as the group has to blend their voices to make them all come together harmoniously.
“I love the fellowship and the responsibility of making my voice blend,” Ayers said. “Singing in harmony gives me a real kick. I can’t imagine singing any other way.”
Gene Chang joined the Barbershop Society a year and a half ago when he lived in Hicksville. He said he enjoys the simple style of the a cappella group.
“It’s great because we can experience performance results so easily, we don’t need a full orchestra or anything. It’s very simple in terms of putting music together,” Chang said. “This style of singing the harmonies is very clear and familiar. If you’re a musician, putting music together is always fun. When the harmonies are working, it’s a very full sound.”
And the society isn’t just for experienced singers. Ayers says they spend a lot of time teaching new members how to sing better, not by criticizing but with helpful tips.
“The only requirement is that you have to like to sing. If you like to sing we can teach you the rest of it,” says Ayers. “We try to make singing tomorrow better than it was yesterday.”
But more than just singing, the society is about bringing people together. Seelinger says that while the group may not be comprised of award-winning singers, it is made up of great people.
“There are a lot of wonderful people. It’s a great social circle, and it’s like an extended family,” Seelinger says. “Before I retired, I worked strange hours and my wife and I had very little social life. But since I got involved with this, it’s like a whole other life for me.”
The Nassau Mid-Island Chapter rehearses Tuesday evenings at 8 p.m. in Winthrop Hall, Church of the Advent at 555 Advent Street in Westbury. Find out more at www.longislandharmonizers.org. To book a Singing Valentine, call Joel Fairman at 516-521-8462.