Sweetheart of a songfest Valentine: Thanks to the Old Line Statesmen Chorus, some 50 loved ones got a song with their card -- raising tears and money for charity.

February 15, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Elsie Beall found four men in tuxedos on her front porch yesterday morning. They handed her a silk rose, a heart-shaped box of Elmer's assorted chocolates and a frilly card, and promised a song.

"Hopefully, she will let us in," said Charlie Liebknecht, too cold to sing his tenor part, so cold that even his crimson boutonniere seemed to shiver.

The Old Line Statesmen Chorus, the Carroll County chapter of the national Barbershop Harmony Society, delivered Beall's holiday greeting, the first of more than 50 singing valentines in a 14-hour songfest that's all for charity.

Three quartets from the 44-member chapter traveled an area from Pennsylvania into Baltimore County. At $35 a stop, they sang four-part harmony to teachers, secretaries, bankers, and a basketball coach; to men and women in offices, shops, schools and a bar. Through all kinds of frigid weather, they delivered greetings, love notes, even a secret proposal.

Jesse Miller, sidelined by a back injury, organized the event that grows in popularity every year. For the first time, givers could go national with their greetings by calling an 800 number to request delivery in more than 50 cities in the United States and Canada.

Miller, a veteran of many singing valentines, said the reaction to the gift is nearly always the same.

"It hits them while we are singing that 'somebody cares for me,' " Miller said. "You touch people emotionally. They start out looking at you, but they end up looking at the floor because they are crying.

"You never leave without hugs. And, you come away with tears on your shirt -- yours and theirs."

Profits nationwide go to Heartspring, a residential facility for children with hearing and speech impairments, in Topeka, Kan.

The Carroll County chapter got an early start on doing its part for charity.

Just after daybreak, a dozen men met at a stop along Route 140. They had hoped for coffee, but their doughnut shop rendezvous was closed for renovations. Under oversized umbrellas to protect them from bone-chilling sleet and rain, they checked their street maps and schedules and headed out on Route 140.

Outside Ben's Rental in Westminster, bass Tom Thawley adjusted his cummerbund and bow tie in the glare of the storefront window and proclaimed "metamorphosis."

Inside, at the keyboard, Karen Kuhn was unaware of the gift that was arriving for her. The singers handed her candy, a card and a silk flower, aerosol-sprayed with attar of roses.

"We tried real roses, but we beat them up too much," said singer David Desrosiers.

Kuhn thought her celebrating would be limited to a valentine dinner with her husband, Jeff.

"I never expected this," Kuhn said to the singers. "I saw the ad in the paper, but I didn't think my husband did, too. I just never thought he had this in him."

The singers posed with Kuhn for a Polaroid shot, "to prove we were here," said Jim Botelle, leader of one quartet.

The century-old barbershop style went high-tech with cell phones as the quartets were notified of last-minute schedule changes.

"Bad weather keeps people home and changes our schedule," said Botelle. "Instead of an office in Owings Mills, we deliver to a home in Pennsylvania."

Quick visits and repeating songs accommodated a packed schedule.

Once the quartet identified itself, the lead singer blew into a pitch pipe, finding the right key. Then, the singers launched into "I Love You Truly" and "Heart of My Heart."

Andy Levy Jr., 24, "loves to sing harmony and the sounds barbershop produces. For valentines, I love seeing the look on their faces. Nobody has any idea we are coming."

Levy, with the chorus for about five years, is part of four father-son pairs in the Carroll chapter. Liebknecht's son Jeff is chorus director.

And, in February, singers contend with bad weather. In between stops yesterday, they scraped ice from car windows -- an awkward task for those in formal attire.

When a white stretch limo sprayed them with slush, Botelle decided "that's the way to go, but it would eat up our profits." So, it was back to the minivan.

At Westminster High, the quartet shouted, "Tom Templeton we are here for you!" as they entered his classroom. Templeton knew immediately his wife had planned the surprise.

"Students might send me something else, but it would not be candy or flowers," he said.

"Under the Boardwalk" was about the closest the quartet could get to anything high school students had ever heard. But, the high notes gave the tenor trouble, so they cut the song off after a few bars.

"You can't do too many high notes; they hurt," Liebknecht said.

Freshman Wesley Howard pronounced the harmonizing "pretty cool." The quartet invited the freshman to join them at Monday practices, just down the hall from his classroom.

Liebknecht, 73, is the oldest chorister -- elementary school kept the youngest singer, an 8-year-old, from the valentine songfest.

"This is a group for anyone who likes to sing," said Miller. "We never turn anyone away."

The singers did not neglect their own sweethearts. Patricia Botelle would be getting a singing valentine at her office in Hunt Valley from Crosstowne Connection -- the younger guys of the chorus, who were assigned to cover the most miles.

"We don't have the widest voice range," said Ed Herring. "But, we are the youngest members and we have four-wheel drive."

Pub Date: 2/15/97

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