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Singing Valentines

Local residents prepare to perform for sweethearts throughout Northern Virginia.

The next week will be a busy one for Fred Coffey and Randall Eliason. From Friday, Feb. 10 through Valentine's Day, these McLean residents will join their fellow members of The Singing Capital Chorus as they deliver singing valentines throughout Northern Virginia.

"We've got a lot of quartets lined up and ready to go," said Eliason.

Formed in 1945, The Singing Capital Chorus is the District of Columbia chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society and is made up of approximately 70 men of all ages.

"The oldest fellow is 96, and the youngest is around 22," said Coffey, who joined the group a few years ago. "Some of them are former Foreign Service types like me. We have a bunch of CIA and military retirees, as well as people on active duty, and we have a lot of accountants and lawyers and so forth — it's a mix."

In the last few years, the chorus has made an effort to re-start its singing valentine program.

"Last year it was very successful," said Bill Colosimo, musical director of the chorus. "We're not the only chapter nationwide that does this — it's a unique and charming way of expressing one's affection for someone, and it's an opportunity for us to get the word out about the chorus."

Colosimo, a resident of Arlington who has been singing all his life, has been the musical director of the chorus since 1991. He says he first fell in love with barbershop when he was 11 years old.

"I'm passionate about it because the first time I heard it sung well I was hooked," said Colosimo. "A cappella singing is not easy, and to have it affect you with a powerful ballad that has a strong message with a chorus or a quartet singing with real magic, it sort of woos you."

For the singing valentines, the quartets will sing one of two song choices: "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," or "The Story of the Rose."

"I think 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart' is more familiar, but the other one is beautiful," said Al Kenneke, who has been organizing the singing valentines. "For $40 you get a quartet in tuxedo full costume, you get a flower, you get a card that you personalize, and you get a photo, either digital or Polaroid."

According to Kenneke, their valentine clientele runs the gamut.

"They are all over the area. We get spouses, sweethearts, family members, parents, grandkids and people who are shut in at hospitals," he said.

LAST YEAR THE chorus performed about 40 singing valentines over the course of four days, and Kenneke expects that they will do even more this year.

"About 50 of our members have volunteered to donate some or all of their time, so we will have about three or four quartets working at any given time," said Kenneke.

Valentines aside, singing barbershop has provided men like Coffey and Eliason with a great social network. Eliason was with the group 10 years ago but then took a break after his second child was born. However, he decided to rejoin the group last year.

"There's something about nailing some of those chords," said Eliason who is a stay-at-home dad and a part-time law professor. "When you hit them right they really ring, and it's a fun music experience."

*To arrange a singing valentine, contact Jim Cullen at 301-434-7440, or at jlcullen@verizon.net.