For members of the Central Alberta-based Wild Rose Harmonizers, singing is how they brighten up the lives of others.
They are a barbershop chorus consisting of about 20 men from all over Central Alberta, singing on a voluntary basis, using their voices to spread goodwill around the community.
Fran Lavoie is a baritone with the group. He said they’ve sung at Ronald McDonald House, the hospital, seniors’ homes, Kiwanis Club meetings, the Festival of Trees.
They also go to the hospice, he said.
“It’s a good experience for us. They accept their situation and it teaches us to accept the seriousness of the venue,” he said.
The Harmonizers also contribute to charities from the proceeds of their concerts. Beneficiaries have included The Mustard Seed, Shalom Counselling and the food bank, to name a few.
For two days — Feb. 11th and Feb. 14th, the group offers a Singing Valentines service. For $40, you can send a quartet from the group to a recipient’s home or workplace to sing two songs. They also get a flower and a picture of the occasion.
The service is way for the Harmonizers to raise money for travel and uniforms. It also gives them some exposure.
It’s one of Lavoie’s favourite activities as a member of the chorus and the reactions they get are varied.
“It’s really fun. I think it’s the most fun thing to be doing for a day, for a quartet. It gets very emotional for people if you’re going to sing to them at their place of work. It gathers all their fellow workers and they’re on the spot,” he said.
“We see lots of tears from the women. With the men, it’s amusing because they are uncomfortable with being sung to, especially love songs. But it’s their wives or their girlfriends who’ve sent us to them.”
But while the Valentines might be a surprise, it tends to be one that leaves everybody involved feeling good.
“Wherever we go to do that, people are touched by it because it’s something that they haven’t experienced very much of. It gives the recipients a thrill. I think it gives the giver a bigger thrill. Even if we didn’t recover costs, I think we would still do it. It’s just so much fun,” said Ralph Wold, another baritone.
The chorus has more than 45 songs in its repertoire. Many are love songs, like I Love You Truly, Heart of My Heart, and My Wild Irish Rose.
Some of their more contemporary numbers include songs by the Beach Boys, Lavoie said.
Barbershop music is characterized sonically by its a cappella, four-part close harmonies, where the melody is chorded, with each voice singing typically within an octave. Singers often perform in quartets – bass, baritone, tenor and lead.
Visually, quartets tend to dress in early 1900s style, with loud colours, vertical stripes and boater hats.
There’s also a lot of gesticulating, which is why singers don’t hold up sheet music.
“You engage your audience a lot better if you’re there expressing your emotions rather than flipping pages,” Lavoie said.
The Wild Rose Harmonizers belong to the Barbershop Harmony Society, the world’s largest all-male singing society, with 23,000 members across North America.
There are also affiliate members in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.
Lavoie reads out the Society’s bylaws. Its mandate is to preserve and encourage the genre, along with the associated good fellowship and charitable work by its members.
It’s certainly a unique throwback for many audiences.
“People are drawn to it. It’s a surprise to people to hear a group, especially men, to hear them singing harmony together. Singing has become not very popular. There aren’t as many young people that are picking it up and not having the experience that we had when we were in school,” Wold said.
Both men sang in choirs when growing up. But as is the case with many people, music as a hobby gets put on hold as life gets in the way. Joining the Harmonizers was a way of rekindling that interest.
Wold has been a part of the chorus for 20 years. Lavoie, for about 11.
“I just decided one day to show up,” Wold said. “I just liked the sound of it. I liked harmony. I liked singing with men. It was just a natural for me.”
Additionally, the Harmonizers provides the men with a place of camaraderie. It’s about mixing into that four-part chord, blending into those velvety-smooth tones and pouring it out to the masses.
“If we participate in something that gives us joy, you can spread that joy to others in music. Then, we are not only improving our own lives. That multiplies the enjoyment,” Wold said.
Meanwhile, to book a Singing Valentine, call Fran at 403-347-0436 or Ralph at 403-347-9852. Book early as bookings are limited. Deadlines are Feb. 10th for Saturday delivery and Feb. 12th for Tuesday delivery.