When your wife is a famous news anchor who’s seen just about everything, finding a Valentine’s Day gift that will wow her can be a challenge.
Last year, former war correspondent Chuck de Caro surprised his wife, retired CNN anchor Lynne Russell, with a heart-shaped pizza from their favorite spot in Purcellville and a singing valentine from a local barbershop quartet. It was a big hit, and this year he’s got an equally special musical tribute (with the help of the guys from the Chorus of the Old Dominion) up his sleeve.
“If you can hold it as a surprise, it’s a very effective way of saying ‘I love you’ on Valentine’s Day,” de Caro said.
For the past decade, quartets from the Chorus of the Old Dominion have been delighting sweethearts with a cappella songs of love and devotion. This year, they’ll once again crisscross the county delivering personal performances to homes, restaurants and workplaces over Valentine’s Day weekend.
“It can be very emotional,” said Ron Baker, the chorus’s bass section leader and a member of one of five roving quartets that will be out and about over the big weekend. “50 percent of the women get choked up and emotional—people aren’t used to getting sung to.”
Baker says the majority of recipients have traditionally been women. But the ladies are starting to catch on, and last year his group delivered songs to guys and gals in roughly equal numbers. (And ladies, don’t worry—they’ll change the lyrics of old standbys to fit a male recipient.)
The program is one of the nonprofit chorus’ biggest fundraisers. The group, made up entirely of volunteers, uses proceeds to pay music director John David Maybury and cover other expenses. Each quartet consists of four male voices: the lead carrying the melody, the bass is second lead with lower notes, the baritone tackling the harmonies that keep the tunes together, and the tenor hitting the high notes.
“The sum is really more than the parts,” Baker said. “When you get the four guys singing together it sounds really good.”
And Baker and his crew will once again be delivering a song to Beth, Baker’s wife of 45 years.
“I’ll probably do ‘Grow Old with Me,’ which is very appropriate for us,” he said with a laugh.
For many regulars, it’s hard to beat the charm of a barbershop quartet, even when the element of surprise is no longer a factor.
For Jimmy and Shauna Olevson of Ashburn, the singing valentine is a tradition now going on its fifth year. Jimmy, a banker and volunteer firefighter, had been dating Shauna, a teacher at Sanders Corner Elementary School, for a few months on Valentine’s Day 2012. He’d heard about the singing valentines program through a colleague at Middleburg Bank, and thought he’d give it a shot.
As it turned out, Jimmy and his crew from Ashburn Volunteer Fire and Rescue were scheduled to read to students at the school the same day, and he got to be there when the quartet surprised Shauna in the teachers’ lounge.
“Some of the teachers just lost it,” Jimmy said, adding that the romantic gesture may have contributed to Shauna’s decision to marry him the following year. Now it’s an annual tradition at the elementary school: reading firefighters and a visit from the quartet.
And while restaurants and workplaces are popular venues, the roving quartets also visit plenty of homes. When Mike Petrusky of Sterling was looking to surprise Diana, his wife of 25 years, he decided to give Baker (a friend from church) and his quartet a try. And for Petrusky, having the couple’s teenage daughter present to see the gift from Dad to Mom was especially sweet.
“He’s such a great guy who exudes a lot of joy when he sings,” Petrusky said of Baker, adding, “The guys are really talented and they made us very comfortable.”
The quartets generally rely on old favorites like “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” “Heart of my Heart” and “Grow Old with You.” But they will take special requests if they can make it work. And de Caro has something particularly fitting in mind for Russell this year (she won’t, by the way, be reading this article).
Last summer, the couple survived a shootout during an armed robbery at a New Mexico motel, an event that made national headlines. De Caro was shot and hospitalized (but is now in good health), and the pair has a lot to celebrate. This year, his special (somewhat tongue in cheek) request is “Do Not Forsake Me O’ My Darlin’” from the 1952 classic western “High Noon.”
The Chorus of the Old Dominion delivers singing valentines to Loudoun and western Fairfax counties from Friday, Feb. 12, through Sunday, Feb. 14. The gift includes a red rose, a personalized card and a digital photo. Cost is $50, and singers will add a large Mylar balloon for an additional $10. Cost to send a singing valentine by phone is $30. To order, call 703-348-0071, send an email to email@example.com or go to www.odchorus.org.