Trumbull choral group welcomes women performers for first time, offers virtual valentines

TRUMBULL — A decades-old tradition will get a new twist this year, with the barbershop chorus, Coastal Chordsmen, offering singing valentines, performed by an actual, singing Valentine.

“I used to sing in the church choir as a teenager, and then 30-plus years later just decided to pick it up again,” said Geralene Valentine, who is one of the first group of women to be admitted to the Trumbull-based singing group.

“The International Barbershop Harmony Society decided to go coed this year, after decades of being all-males,” said Chris Andrade, the Coastal Chordsmen’s director. “So we opened it to anyone who wants to sing, and we decided this was the ideal time to do it.”

The new mixed chorus, which does not yet have a name, will perform in addition to the all-male Coastal Chordsmen, Andrade said. Many of the new women also perform in various other chorale singing groups, including some all-women ensembles.

“We’re really excited about the possibilities,” Andrade said.

This year for the first time women were scheduled to be part of the Chordsmen’s annual singing valentines performances. Since 1998, tuxedo-wearing quartets would visit homes or businesses, delivering a rose and chocolate, and serenading the recipient. This year, COVID-19 restrictions prohibited the in-person visits, but the tradition will live on, Andrade said.

“That was one of the biggest events every year,” he said. “We would have three or four quartets on the road the week of Valentine’s Day delivering 60 to 100 messages. It’s something people really remember.”

In recent years, Andrade said, the performers have noticed their performances popping up on social media.

“When they show up at someone’s office and start singing, out come all the cellphone cameras and next thing, it’s on Youtube,” he said.

The social media sharing gave the Coastal Chordsmen more exposure, and it gave Andrade an idea — customized, virtual singing valentines.

“We had been rehearsing over Zoom and around Christmas I thought, ‘I think we can do this,’” he said. “During the pandemic everyone got better at using online video, so let’s make a performance.”

The group already had some experience with virtual performances, releasing a rendition of The Little Drummer Boy on Christmas Day.

But the Valentine’s Day performances would be a much bigger challenge. People purchasing a $20 video would have the option of choosing between a half-dozen traditional a cappella love songs, and the videos could also be customized to include names and personal messages.

Putting the videos together required time and some deft use of video editing software.

“I recorded myself conducting the songs, so everybody would be on tempo,” Andrade said. “Then I sent the music to everyone, and they recorded themselves at home singing along and send it back to me.”

The individual singers then came to the group’s normal rehearsal space at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church to make a video of themselves standing in front of a green screen and lip-syncing to the recordings of themselves. Finally, Andrade combined all the numerous recordings. From there, adding backgrounds and recipients’ names and personalized messages is relatively simple, he said.

“Choral singing is one of the things that’s a problem with COVID because of the concern about aerosol transmission,” Andrade said. “But we didn’t want to have everyone wearing a mask, so we did their voice recordings from home, then brought them in to record the video so we could stay socially distanced.”

An added benefit, Andrade said, is that the virtual format meant the group could expand deliveries beyond Fairfield and New Haven counties.

Valentine said the recording had gone easier than she had expected.

“You actually tend to get nervous, even though no one’s listening but the cat,” she said. “But it’s easier when you can have the music in front of you and you know that if you make a mistake you can just delete it and try again.”

Still, even if recording Valentine’s Day chorus music from home is a a little more convenient and doesn’t entail heading out in cold and potentially snowy weather, Valentine said she couldn’t wait to get back to singing on-stage as a group.

“That’s what’s exciting,” she said. “That’s what really raises your energy, because everyone’s up on stage having fun.”

The Coastal Chordsmen is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. To sign up for a virtual singing Valentine’s Day message visit its website. Recipients will receive a link to their personal recordings on Valentine’s Day.