The Santa Monica Oceanaires deliver singing Valentines in classic barbershop style
By Christina Campodonico
What better way to say ‘I love you’ than through song? Humans have been expressing themselves this way for centuries, but some of us may not have the pipes to pull it off.
Where vocal range (and perhaps words too) fall short, in step the Santa Monica Oceanaires. The all-male a cappella group of barbershop quartet hobbyists have been delivering musical messages of love on Valentine’s Day for at least the past 20 years.
Every Feb. 14, members of the group dress to the nines and spread out in sets of four across L.A., but mostly the Westside, to deliver singing Valentines. A tenor, lead singer, baritone and bass arrives, usually unexpectedly, at a beloved’s workplace, home or a romantic rendezvous point and serenades the recipient a cappella-style with two classic barbershop love songs. (“Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and “Heart of My Heart” are two of the Oceanaires’ signature tunes.) Along with their dulcet tones, they deliver a heart-shaped balloon and personalized greeting card from the beloved’s sweetheart.
“We’ve had many ladies tear up … and smiles. They just can’t stop smiling,” says Santa Monica Oceanaires President Jerry Walker. “It’s a combination of being so happy they’re receiving a message of love and of being a little embarrassed that they’re receiving a message of love in front of their co-workers. The combined impact is really shaking. … It moves the ladies to their core.”
While women are usually the recipients of singing Valentines, observes Walker, a singing Valentine could be sent to or dispatched by anyone — say an adult child to a parent, a cousin to a cousin, a friend to a friend and so on.
“We’ve had quartets that have sung to big burly men in auto repair shops, who didn’t expect it and were terribly moved by it,” says Oceanaires member Ken Scholtz, who chaired the committee for singing Valentines for many years. “We’ve sung to people from age 20 to 100.”
An annual and popular fundraiser for the Oceanaires, Scholtz describes the group’s singing Valentines as part benefit, part “public service.”
“It’s not just a commercial thing. It’s personal,” he says.
Some of the more memorable singing Valentines in the Oceanaires’ collective memory include singing to a UCLA student’s girlfriend at her college residence, crooning to a teacher and her classroom full of kindergarteners, and drawing a crowd to the center of a downtown L.A. architecture firm.
“So we went in, and it turns out that there are open staircases and a big balcony that surrounds them in a square or rectangle up on the second floor,” recalls Walker. “We got this young lady to come out from her office and we began to sing, and all the balconies all the way around were filled with people who were drawn to the music.
“It’s just human voices that draw people,” he continues. “The human contact. When you look at a person and you sing a love song with genuine meaning … and you know that you’re carrying a message of love to others from individuals who sent you there — it’s a more moving and deeply memorable experience than receiving roses or chocolates or something like that. When people share their emotions with one another, as we do through song, it moves people.”
“It’s like nothing else,” adds Scholtz. “Just because of the emotional intensity of being sung to. … Music is a direct emotional connection. And live music, it’s so much more than anything that’s recorded.”
The Santa Monica Oceanaires are accepting early bird orders for singing Valentines through Feb. 10. Orders are accepted through Feb. 14, but often sell out before then. The price of a singing Valentine starts at $50. Call (323) 247-7464 or visit singingvalentinesla.com to order, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for special requests.