Barbershop quartet celebrates Valentine’s Day

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(Host) Valentine’s Day is a busy day for florists and confectioners, but it’s also a big day for barbershop quartets. VPR’s Steve Zind spent Valentine’s Day morning with one busy group of singers.

(Zind) At 8:30 in the morning in a Winooski kitchen, Susan Culbert, Anne Nichols, Heather Anderson and Diana Gosselin are preparing for a long day. They’ll spend it delivering singing Valentines to unsuspecting objects of affection. They’ll visit large businesses and small establishments. They’ll stop at nursing homes and private homes.

The quartet is one of several barbershop ensembles whose members take the day off from their jobs in the service of romance. They have orders for 80 singing valentines. More will come in during the day. For $40, they’ll drive anywhere in the Champlain Valley to deliver one of four romantic songs they’ve practiced for the occasion. Valentine’s Day is a major fundraising event for Vermont’s Barbershop Quartet Societies. The singers themselves don’t earn a dime. But there are rewards:

“Sometimes we sing at a funeral service, sometimes we sing in different situations. People are doing this because they love them and they care about them and they want them to know. And that’s a nice thing.”

“We’ll walk into 12 or 13 places today and we don’t know whether they will be thoroughly embarrassed, just bawling because it brings back so many memories, or just be so joyful at it.”

(Zind) The morning passes in a blur as the group navigates the streets of Burlington. Then they’re off to Richmond and later to Milton. They’ll be at it until 9:00 p.m. At each stop they plunge out of their van and into the frigid air, clutching cards and chocolates and trailing balloons. Even before they begin to sing, it’s clear they’re on a Valentine’s Day mission.

Before the morning is over, the quartet has delivered singing valentines to a dentist’s office, the Red Cross, a nursing home and two beauty parlors. At each place, work comes to a standstill when the singing begins. Each valentine recipient is delighted and surprised.

In Richmond, Marvin Carpenter bought a singing valentine for his wife, Tina, who works just down the street from him at a hair salon.

(Marvin Carpenter) “It was different. It’s romantic. It’s a surprise. And I just thought it would be really cool. And I wanted to do it at her work. I thought maybe there’d be a little bit of an embarrassment for her.”

(Zind) Carpenter watches as the quartet serenades his wife, who beams as she goes on giving a pedicure to a slightly embarrassed patron. Carpenter says he’s in the doghouse. He accidentally took his wife’s car keys this morning. The singing Valentine was the ideal remedy. For Tina Carpenter and the others, the afterglow of the gift would last long after the song had ended.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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