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To Russia With Love

Barbershop Chorus delivers Valentine songs and plans an appearance in Russia.

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The Virginians Chorus is one of the largest of 700 choruses in the national Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of BarberShop Quartet Singing in America, and it's been serenading audiences in Central Virginia for more than 50 years. Winners of the Mid-Atlantic District's Southern Division chorus championship for five of the past seven years, the chorus has earned itself recognition and respect through lots of training and a genuine love of singing.

"When I get to Tuesday-night rehearsal, there is no question of if I'm going, because I love to do it," former president Jim Rogers says. "For those three hours, I don't think about business or what I have to do. I think that's what keeps people coming back."

With its Singing Valentines fund-raiser this month, the chorus expects to send 26 quartets to more than 200 lovebirds in February. "Flowers or chocolate is pretty boring stuff," Rogers says. "To get guys in a tux to come to their workplace and sing to them is a really unique gift."

The coordination needed to get the Singing Valentines out to the misty-eyed mistresses takes more than just a bow tie and a vocal warm-up. "We prepare and package about 1,500 roses for the event," president Bob Gilliam says. "It takes a platoon of members and their wives to do this."

Though the event is a fund-raiser, the payoff for members goes much deeper. "I remember a couple years ago," Gilliam says, "we went to a small nursing home, and when they wheeled these ladies out, and they smiled — that was pretty moving."

After performing throughout Virginia, from the Modlin Center to the Homestead to retirement homes, the chorus has been awarded the opportunity to represent the United States in August at the seventh annual Barbershop Music Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia. The festival, sponsored by the International Fine Arts Institute and the Russian Ministry of Culture, will give the Virginians a chance to reach an entirely different audience and prepare for the international competition in Denver.

For an organization whose mission is to entertain, the opportunity to do so in world-renowned concert halls cannot be underestimated, Rogers points out: "The singing venues in St. Petersburg are wonderful, ornate concert halls where Tchaikovsky used to play. They hold around 4,000 people, and they may have to turn 1,000 people away. Singing to a packed house of energetic music lovers is the thrill of a lifetime." S



To order a Singing Valentine, call 866-VASINGS (866-827-4647) or visit www.virginians.org. A two-song serenade and one red rose costs $49.95; a two-song serenade and a dozen red roses is $79.95.

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