Singing "Jingle Bells" in four-part harmony is no easy task. Just ask the Sons of the Severn Barbershop Chorus.
The bass sing "jingle jingle . . ." over and over while the tenors start on "Dashing through the snow . . ." and somehow they have to conclude all together with a rousing "Hey!"
Then there is the little problem with the horse's whinny.
At one recent practice session, Alejandro Alvarez gave it a try, but someone said he sounded like Mr. Ed.
But the singers were certain they'd have it right in time for their performance Saturday at Chatham Mall in Ellicott City, the first of six performances by the men's chorus during the Christmas season.
The Sons of the Severn, a chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, has been singing in Anne Arundel County since 1949.
The group brings together 50 men ranging in age from 32 to 80 who have little else in common than a love for barbershop harmony.
They include businessmen, plumbers and doctors. Some travel from Baltimore City, Baltimore County and even the Eastern Shore for the weekly practices at Glen Burnie United Methodist Church.
"We all love to sing," said Pete Lee, former president of the chorus, who has been a member for eight years. "And it's not necessary that we all are good singers."
If anyone was singing off key at last Tuesday's practice, it wasn't noticeable.
Director Larry Duggan took the members through a series of Christmas carols, encouraging them to smile, watch his signals, and to round off their "O's" to avoid that Bawlamer twang.
Orville Henschell, a bass from Glen Burnie, explained that chorus is a teaching society that always is seeking new members. "We want to have 100 men."
Chip Brousseau, 32, is one of the youngest members of the Sons of the Severn. He was a teen-ager captivated by hard rock when his father dragged him to hear his first barbershop quartet.
"It was great. I was wondering where all that sound was coming from," he said.
Although Mr. Brousseau later played guitar in a rock band, he continued to be fascinated with vocal harmonies.
A few years ago, he decided to give up the late nights of a rock musician for the early evening rehearsals and performances of the Sons of Severn.
"I haven't plugged in my guitar since," he said.
The beauty of barbershop singing, Mr. Lee said, is that it sounds more complex than it is.
Sung a cappella in four-part harmonies, the voices unite in a way that imparts a richness to the simple chords.
"It just rings right in our heads," Mr. Lee said.
Many of the men in the chorus cannot read music, but they learn to take cues from each other. Or as Mr. Alvarez, one of the newest members puts it, "You can always cover your mistakes with the other guys."
Mr. Alvarez, a native of Cuba, said he joined the chorus three weeks ago because he loves music and always wanted to sing Christmas carols.
Bill Mechesney, 80, is the Sons of the Severn's oldest member. He has been a member of the barbershop quartet society for 50 years and a member of the Anne Arundel chapter since 1961. He calls the weekly chorus practice sessions "Daddy's night out."
"My wife's been a barbershop widow for a long time," he said.
He has given up quartet singing in recent years, but said he has no plans to quit the chorus.
"I'm hoping to sing bass into my 90s," he said.
This year's Christmas show schedule is:
* Dec. 7, 7 p.m. at Meridian Nursing Home, 24 Truck House Road.
* Dec. 11, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Marley Station Mall.
* Dec. 17, 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Glen Burnie Mall.
* Dec. 19, 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Annapolis Harbour Center.
* Jan. 1, 7 p.m. at Church of the Good Shepherd, 1451 Furnace Ave.