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Sweet serenade

Cranberry chorus delivers singing valentines
Cranberry Men’s Chorus members, from left, David Brooks, Ben Smith, Charlie Lisella and Noah Steiner, are available to serenade a loved one in a four-part harmony on Valentine’s Day. Submitted Photo

Nothing says “I love you” like being serenaded by a barbershop quartet singing classic love ballads.

“What we really want to do is knock it out of the park this year,” said Ron Brooks of Saxonburg, music director for the Cranberry Men’s Chorus. “We want to make the valentines feel special.”

From Feb. 10 to 14, the chorus is offering singing valentines along with a foil balloon, stuffed bear and printed lyrics. The group will be deployed throughout the Butler and Pittsburgh areas dapperly dressed in red tuxedos. The cost of the singing telegram is $50.

Brooks, who manages the valentine telegrams, said six quartets are prepared to go anywhere — provided they get permission — to make sure loved ones “feels special” this romantic holiday.

“We offer to sing to people anywhere they are,” Brooks said. “We’ve done it to a mechanic under a car in a garage; we’ve done them to a person in a restaurant while they’re working and while they’re having dinner.”

The songs will be sung in a traditional barbershop quartet style, with four parts including the lead, bass, baritone and tenor.

“We want our quartets to sound honest,” Brooks said. “And we want them to sound warm and wonderful. Every song takes on a life of its own.”

Ben Smith, of Allison Park, is a lead in one of the quartets that will be perform for Valentine’s Day. He said he likes to add a dynamic to the lyrics when his group performs.

“When you’re in a quartet, you get to have fun and have your own spin and style to it,” Smith said

Song selection is ‘something really special’

The quartets started preparing for Valentine’s Day at the start of the year, spending around four to five hours a week rehearsing. Brooks, who has been in the singing telegram business since 1997, not only runs the valentine telegrams but also chooses the songs the quartets will perform.

Brooks said he takes song selection very seriously.

“What I tried to do was pick songs that would fit the valentine message,” Brooks said. “It is also important that we do songs that we sing well … When we have our quartet squad, it’s really important that we just don’t sing the song, but they sing it well, and they produce a good sound and it’s something really special.”

This holiday, the list of songs offered includes “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” by Mama Cass, “Happy Together” by The Turtles, “Hooked on a Feeling” by B.J. Thomas, “My Special Angel” by Bobby Vinton, “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” by Elvis Presley and “Turn Around, Look at Me” by the Vogues.

The song variety, according to Brooks, allows participants to choose a ballad that matches the relationship of the participants.

“We’ve got awesome power ballads,” Brooks said. “We’ve got some local flavor; we’ve got some old-school stuff like ‘My Special Angel’ and ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’ and some fun songs, like ‘Happy Together.’”

Brooks said he wanted to use songs that the audience would be able to recognize, instead of the typical barbershop-style songs which tend to be from the “1920s to the ’40s.”

“We wanted to update and make ourselves more relevant,” Brooks said “So we started doing more relevant songs, songs from our generation.”

Smith, who is 26 years old, said he had not heard some of the songs that his quartet was going to perform but quickly understood the magic behind the music.

“It’s interesting,” Smith said. “I’ve never heard these songs before, but I kind of said to myself ‘Let’s see how it sounds and kind of just go from there.’ Now, ‘Turn Around and Look at Me’ has become one of my favorite songs to perform, because it’s really fun as a lead and the chords sound incredible together.”

The Cranberry Men’s Chorus is a nonprofit organization, and proceeds will go to support the group’s efforts such as providing music and tracks to local high schools.

To order a singing valentine, visit the website

Members of Cranberry Men’s Chorus, from left, Bruce Kollister, Jim McKee, Ben Smith and Doug Anke, get ready to perform in their a cappella quartet for an unsuspecting valentine. Submitted Photo

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