Singing group provides harmony on Valentine's Day


SUSAN GALLI recalls her first performance in a Sweet Adelines Valentine's Day quartet: It was at police headquarters in Howard County, where the barbershop group was making an 8 a.m. call to serenade an office worker.

The visit ended in embarrassment when the performers learned the keys had been left locked in their car. It took help from the detective in charge of auto theft, who expertly popped the lock, to get the songbirds on the road to their next appointment.

Galli, an independent computer programmer, is president of Chesapeake Harmony, a relatively new Sweet Adelines chapter in Severna Park.

Two quartets from the 23-member Chesapeake Harmony chorus will be delivering singing Valentines by appointment Monday. Galli will be a member of one foursome, with Leone Craven, Rebecca Reber and Peggy Coulter. The other includes Gwen Meyer, Stacey Knerr and Natalie McIntire, with Angela Dewing and Donna Smith alternating in singing lead.

In barbershop harmony, a female singing voice is not classified as soprano or alto, but as bass, tenor, baritone or lead.

Galli, a tenor, says delivering musical Valentines creates as many memories for the messengers as it does for recipients.

She recalls a Valentine's Day several years ago, when her quartet delivered a musical love note from a husband to his wife at her job -- as a high school teacher. "We arrived during class, and the ninth-grade boys were snickering," says Galli, who emphasizes that permission to invade a workplace is arranged beforehand.

"The teasing stopped when we started singing. Everyone ended up having a wonderful time -- the kids just loved it, and the teacher was shedding tears of joy.

"I think it's the public show of affection in front of colleagues or students that shows someone really loves and appreciates the recipient, that makes the singing Valentine so special," says Galli, a barbershop veteran of 11 years and 1971 graduate of Severna Park High School.

This is the first year that members of the 2-year-old Chesapeake Harmony -- considered new girls on the block by chorus standards -- will be delivering singing Valentines, in the process raising money to offset the group's costs. Valentines cost $40 if ordered by Saturday, or $50 on shorter notice.

Orders are divided between the women's group and the Patapsco Barbershop Chorus, a chapter of the male Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America.

Based in Oklahoma, Sweet Adelines has more than 800 chapters around the world, divided into geographical regions. Chesapeake Harmony is the newest among 27 chapters in the region that includes Pennsylvania, Delaware, southern New Jersey and Maryland.

Barbershop singing isn't all the members of Chesapeake Harmony do.

Chorus director Jinny Guy of Silver Spring manages the dental office of her husband, who is also a barbershop enthusiast. Amy Kinder of Annapolis heads breast cancer rehabilitation at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis. Others finding refuge in the distractions of music include medical technicians, a delivery room nurse and several schoolteachers.

Members are from Anne Arundel County, Baltimore and the Columbia area.

Reber, who works in the human resources department at Legg Mason Inc. in Baltimore, makes the drive from her home in Roland Park to Severna Park Middle School for practice every Wednesday night.

Sweet Adelines chapters are always looking for members, and have no age requirement, although high school girls are encouraged to sing first in Young Women in Harmony chapters affiliated with the Adelines.

In addition to the Valentine deliveries, the group earns money by charging a fee for some engagements. One gig that did not bring in money but earned considerable applause was last year's Greater Severna Park Fourth of July parade. The chorus was delighted when spectators along the route shouted for more.

The chorus' most exciting moment occurred when it sang the national anthem at a Baltimore Thunder lacrosse game at Baltimore Arena. An invitation to open a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards might be in the group's future.

The costs of their singing habit include travel, a stipend for their director and hundreds of dollars for sheet music and training tapes.

Then there's the matter of costumes. Nancy Harring, mother of three and grandmother of seven, has been singing bass with the chorus since its inception. The Severna Park resident recalls how hard the chorus has worked to buy new costumes.

"Last year, we used hand-me-down costumes that had to be remade," says Harring, who describes the refitting process as an "absolute nightmare."

Thanks to hours spent selling pizzas, the chorus owns new costumes: matching royal blue pants, skirts and tunic tops. "We sold pizzas to buy the costumes," says Harring, "and now we're selling more pizzas to pay for the silver-sequined collars that complete the outfits."

The chorus is tuning up for one of its big events -- the annual regional barbershop competition scheduled April 8 at Ocean City Convention Center.

Last year's regional was Chesapeake Harmony's first. "We were terrified," says Harring. "The performers were surprised at what the judges pay attention to: How their makeup looks, how their costume looks, how they pronounce their consonants and vowels."

Still, the fledgling chorus ranked 18th among the 25 groups competing.

Now that they know the notes and words, and have their silver and royal blue outfits, members say they'll concentrate on the finer points of performing at this year's competition.

Check them out free in a rehearsal at 8 p.m. March 29 at Glen Burnie High School. An admission fee is charged for the Ocean City event, which includes an evening competition and a concert by the winners in various categories.

"All choruses have their own personality," says Galli, "like the ambience of your favorite restaurant. Chesapeake Harmony is striving to be a very friendly group, committed to the community."

Information, or to order a singing Valentine: 410-987-2684.

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