Some things never grow old. Although their genre of music was in vogue decades ago, the 35-plus men of Trails West Barbershop Chorus in Olathe think a cappella singing is the pitch-perfect Valentine’s Day gift to set a loved one’s heart aflutter.
Every year on Feb. 13 and 14, the men, decked out in snazzy red vests and snappy red bowties, serenade lucky recipients with Singing Valentines across Johnson County and Kansas City. Time-tested, nostalgic barbershop singing, along with a rose and box of chocolates, is delivered to a diverse audience — including women and men in medical offices, corporate businesses and schools.
Clients spend $50 to have two or three ditties sung to their sweetheart of choice. In the absence of instrumental accompaniment, the harmonizing Cupids dispatching Singing Valentines croon upbeat songs like “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and other favorites to blushing wives, girlfriends and fiancées and, sometimes, embarrassed men.
Proceeds generated by Trails West’s annual Singing Valentine project benefit scholarships for three Johnson County high students planning to study music in college.
Joel Short is a retired theater teacher and official coordinator of this year’s Singing Valentines. A member of Trails West Barbershop Chorus since 2005, Short joined after his son was awarded one of the scholarships.
Short’s curiosity was piqued after seeing the chorus perform and, touched by the familiar songs’ irresistible sentiment, decided to check out the society.
“I went to a Tuesday night practice on a whim,” says Short, who didn’t grow up with a barbershopping father or grandfather. “It wasn’t in my blood, but I loved it — the fellowship, the singing, the good-natured feeling.”
Like most Trails West members, Short was smitten with the indigenous American musical art form.
In addition to singing with the chorus, Short also belongs to the Spare Parts quartet, one of several smaller groups that deliver the Singing Valentines for the chorus. Depending on the number of Singing Valentines in queue for the annual 48-hour blitz, Spare Parts could grow from a quartet to a Very Large Quartet — VLQ in barbershop language.
“Last year Trails West delivered 50 Singing Valentines and raised $2,700 for our scholarship program,” says Short, a tenor with wide range. “We recruited other members of the chorus to join Spare Parts for the two days to accommodate a packed schedule.”
Trails West also dispenses Loving Gifts, an anonymous Singing Valentine for assisted living facilities, hospice houses or hospitals. Purchasers can designate $25 of the $50 fee to be donated to the recipient’s charity or the American Heart Association.
The Olathe-based group is directed by Randy Schott and has entertained audiences for 16 years in the spirit of blending voices in four-part harmony. The group practices Tuesdays at 7 p.m. at Olathe’s First Baptist Church. No audition is required.
Dale Ellis, Trails West president and a seven-year chorus member, says barbershopping’s fraternal and familial aspects are apparent during practice and public performances.
“Particularly during Singing Valentines, which are a ton of fun,” says Ellis. “It’s obvious we enjoy making music together.”
Ellis likes songs reminiscent of childhood.
“My mother was fond of 1940s-era songs like ‘We’ll Meet Again,’ ” says Ellis. “I always get sentimental when we sing it.”
Ellis describes some Singing Valentines locales as quirky.
“One time we piled into a boxing ring to sing,” he says. “And at a Mexican restaurant we competed with Spanish music on an overhead sound system. Another time we sang to a woman in an aerobics swimming class.”
Last year old-fashioned harmony met modern romance when a Singing Valentine was delivered via 21st-century technology.
“A husband had us Skype his wife,” says Ellis. “That was pretty special for everyone.”
Barbershop music might be old-fashioned by today’s standards, but for Trails West, it never goes out of style. Especially on Valentine’s Day.