Written by Betsy Abraham Friday, 07 February 2014 00:00
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,” said 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 member and Bethpage resident Ed Andreassen, the program is a great way to exercise vocal harmonies while also filling hearts with a little love on Valentine’s Day.
“I’ve seen every kind of reaction across the board, from tears to laughter,” said Andreassen, a bass singer who has been a member of the society for more than 40 years. “The one reaction I haven’t seen is anger; no one’s thrown anything at us yet.”
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,” said 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.”
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. Andreassen said that while the group may not be comprised of award-winning singers, it is made up of great people. A resident of Bethpage for about 55 years, Andreassen said barbership quartet is also special because it is uniquely American.
“This is really one of the only kinds of music to originate in the U.S.,” he said, adding that he has been a singer since he was a young boy, singing in high school choruses and church choirs. “This is a wonderful club filled with great people. And we love going out there and delighting people with music. It’s one of those great joys in life.”
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.