Together 2004
Published: February 4, 2004

With a song in their hearts
Singing valentines deliver romance to lovers of all ages

by Elizabeth White

When people receive singing valentines from the Adagio barbershop quartet, they may smile, laugh, turn red or cry.

The quartet members just might shed a tear, too.

"We love it. We really bring so much joy to everybody, whether they're young kids, whether they're old," said Steve Sammonds, the quartet's lead singer and director of its parent choir, the Peninsulaires. The choir rehearses at Palo Alto's Cubberley Community Center.

Wearing white tuxedos, the quartet sings two songs -- "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and "Heart of My Heart." A rose and a card are included in the $50 delivery.

Singing valentines from San Mateo to San Jose each year, the group is sometimes struck by the reaction of a recipient.

"It's very emotional," said Dave Morley, the quartet's baritone.

He recalled a delivery last year at the Veterans Hospital. "We sang to someone who was literally flat on his back" with a spinal injury, Morley said. "That was touching. But some of them are hard for us to sing to, because we know we're singing to someone who's sick or dying."

The quartet members say they look forward most to their Valentine's Day duties because they sing to known individuals rather than a large, anonymous audience.
"It's easier to sing to an individual because there is a definite focal point," said Sammonds, who works in customer support for Electronic Arts. "We get such a wide range of reactions."

And even if singing to an individual, the quartet may still have a large audience. Sammonds recalls the time the group went to Gunn High School to deliver a lunchtime valentine to a male student. The group thought students would laugh it right off the school grounds and throw food. On the contrary.

"The whole quad just went completely silent and afterward they all cheered for us," Sammonds said. "That's one of the more memorable ones for me."

It's reactions like those that keep Sammonds, Morley, Chuck Thompson and Mark Torrance energetic for their weekly three-hour practices, which are above and beyond the three hours they put in for the regular choir.

Adagio, which is registered with the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing, and enters competitions regularly, is not a typical group. Usually quartets have members in the same generation, but Adagio's members range in age from 34 to 63. And their backgrounds are as diverse as their ages.

Morley, 63, who's been with the choir the longest -- 37 years -- just retired last year from Fujitsu as a product manager. Thompson, 52, the group's bass, works in precision sheet metal.

But the quartet members said their varied backgrounds don't matter and that for many months no one even knows how a new Peninsulaires member spends his days.

"It's irrelevant," Morley said. "We just get into it because we love to sing."
Though Adagio is the most experienced, three or four other quartets composed of some of the Peninsulaires' 30 or so regular members will be out and about on Valentine's Day singing their hearts out, too.

Sammonds estimates Adagio will be busy on Feb. 13 and 14 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and will deliver about 25 valentines each day. So will each of the other, less formalized quartets.

"We've gotten seven orders already and we never get them this early," Morley said.

But Torrance, a Web designer who works with Fannie Mae, says the group and the other quartets always have room for more of the 10-minute gigs. Adagio has gotten calls for an emergency show on Valentine's Day more than once, Morley said.

Amid all their Valentine's Day engagements, the quartet's members still find time to serenade their wives. Torrance brought the quartet along to surprise his wife last year, and Morley has caught his wife off guard a couple of times. Bonny Morley said those memories more than make up for not having her husband around on the most romantic day of the year.

"I groused a lot at the beginning, but the reality is that it brings so much pleasure to them, the quartet, but it also brings so much pleasure to the people they sing to," she said. "It can be very touching. We've been married 40 years this summer, and it's been a long journey, and it's wonderful."

And she's always willing to help the group practice by serving as its living-room audience.

"Generally our wives are understanding and supportive," Sammonds said.
He added he might try to surprise his wife this year. "It's been awhile," he said.

To order a singing Valentine from Adagio or the other Peninsulaires quartets, call (408) 867-3798 or visit the Web site at www.barbershop-harmony.org. The groups require at least a two-hour window to deliver the valentine