Romantics who would like to serenade their sweethearts for Valentine’s Day don’t need a balcony, a guitar or even a singing voice. For $50, Stone Mountain Barbershop Chorus will send a quartet to sing two love songs and present a personalized Valentine’s card and an artificial rose.
“People love it—usually,” said Bill Banks, the chorus’ project chairman, who admits that occasionally a bashful recipient is a bit embarrassed by the attention. He said that eight quartets, many award winners, present approximately 100 singing Valentines on or near Feb. 14.
“We never know exactly how many we’ll have since some are ordered very close to the date,” Banks said. He noted that the greetings in song, now a 20-year tradition, are delivered all over the metro Atlanta area.
Banks coordinates the engagements making quick adjustments when necessary to be sure all the dates are kept. Using a big map and multicolored pushpins, he keeps track of engagements for the day. “If a group is delayed in traffic, I try to see if another one can fill in. We don’t want to disappoint anyone,” he said. He said that quartets going to busy areas where parking is a challenge have a driver who drops them off then comes around and picks them up.
“The quartets enjoy it as much as the recipients,” said Banks, who added that the singing groups usually leave giggling with glee. They dress in their own spiffy outfits—most with at least a splash of red—that suggest a turn-of-the-20th-century barbershop quartet.
Banks calls barbershop quartets a uniquely American contribution to music—much like the banjo. “This is one of our most enjoyable projects because we get to deliver a unique ‘I love you’ message to that special sweetheart,” he said.
While the serenade usually evokes an image of a gentleman singing to his lady love in some romantic setting, Banks said the reality varies greatly. “We have serenaded both men and women in such spots as supermarkets, college and elementary school classrooms, business offices, retail shops, doctor’s offices, living rooms and residential driveways,” he said, adding that about of a third of those serenaded are men. He recalled a third grade class that had the barbershoppers sing to their teacher.
“The effect is most dramatic when an audience is present to witness the event,” Banks said. “It’s great when the whole office comes out to join in the fun.”
The quartets come from among Stone Mountain Barbershop Chorus’ 60 members, who regularly perform the a cappella four-part close harmony that characterizes the classic barbershop quartet. The group, which formed in 1980 with 22 members rehearsing at a Chamblee church, has grown to be the largest group in the regional Dixie Chorus. Both a performing and competing chorus, the group has twice won the annual regional competition, most recently in 2010. The Stone Mountain Barbershop Chorus now meets every Monday night at Rehoboth Presbyterian Church in Decatur.
The Stone Mountain Chorus is a non-profit organization that donates a portion of its Singing Valentine proceeds to Families of Children Under Stress, a local charity. In addition to giving a spring and a fall concert each year, the chorus—or groups from within it—perform at such events as the Stone Mountain Park Memorial Day Salute to the Troops and at Christmas visits to nursing homes.
Its website notes that throughout its history “the Stone Mountain Chapter has proudly represented our community as ambassador songsters and cheerful good citizens. We continue our dedication to ‘keep the whole world singing!’”