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February 10, 2005

Quartet delivers singing surprises

Daytona Beach News (FL):

Out in the countryside on a cold dreary day, four men in white tuxedos and red bow ties huddled in a circle. One by one, their voices came together in a soft, seamless harmony amid the loud mechanical growl of a nearby industrial truck. It was the last few minutes before the big surprise, when this dapper barbershop quartet would approach some lucky lady and sing classic love songs a cappella. For these singing Valentines that call themselves the Surftones, no job is ever the same. Every couple is different, and every surprise, unique. Still for them, the whole process is always rewarding. "We have so much fun doing this," said Jack Newcomer, who sings baritone.

The Surftones barbershop quartet is part of the Surfside Chorus, Daytona Beach Metro Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, a nonprofit organization that has been sending out quartets throughout Flagler and Volusia counties since 1950. This quartet, which started about five years ago, is busy volunteering their voices throughout the year with a long list of venues from the Volusia County Fair to the Daytona International Speedway to local churches. Typically, their $35 fee covers a box of chocolates and the gas it takes to get to the location. Whatever is left over is given away to a worthy cause, says Dotty Newcomer, Jack Newcomer's wife and the Surftones' manager. So far, they've sponsored local young music talents in competitions and donated money to the Master Gardeners Program in Flagler County and Harmony College, an educational program put on by the Barbershop Harmony Society based in Wisconsin.

February, of course, is a busy time for these singing cupids. On this recent afternoon, their mission was to surprise Pam Tucker, a request from her husband of 28 years, Elbert Tucker. Waiting for the OK outside Tucker Insurance, both Elbert and Pam's workplace, the four men patted down their white tuxedo jackets and tightened up the shoelaces on their signature black and white patent leather "penguin shoes," as they call them. After the quartet's manager handed Pam a heart-shaped box of chocolates, out came the quartet and the sweet tune: "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." Elbert rushed over with a giant card that read "Be My Valentine. Love, Elbert." "I've surprised her before -- not like this," Elbert said with a chuckle. In this case, Pam never had a clue. Usually, Newcomer says, the clever quartet pulls off the surprise without a hitch. And that's where careful planning and thinking on your feet becomes key, says his wife and manager of the quartet, Dotty Newcomer.

The customer's initial phone call to request a singing valentine is just the first step, Dotty Newcomer says. As the date comes closer, the quartet and the customer continue updating each other on possible changes. So whenever Dotty or Jack Newcomer calls the customer requesting the singing valentine, they start the conversation knowing the special someone might be in the room. They simply have to gauge it depending on the person's tone of voice over the telephone, Jack Newcomer says. And when it all comes together, these singers say, there's nothing like watching the face of a flabbergasted boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife -- even ex-wife -- listen to them sing.

They've sung for a woman working at a sewage plant, a guy lifting weights at the gym, and a woman in a mobile home park whose admirer ordered the singing valentine all the way from Michigan. They go anywhere to find the person they're looking for and catch them when they least expect it. And the more public, the better.

They agree their favorite targets are unsuspecting male construction workers whose sweethearts have chosen to surprise them on the job. "You got four big guys singing to a guy 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart,' " Jack Newcomer says. And as the stunned construction workers listen to the song, bass singer Christopher Baker says, "We know they're squirming."

But more than the surprise, these lighthearted singers say they love making memories for couples in love."We're emotionally involved," said Jack Newcomer, who, along with the rest of the quartet, admits he gets choked up watching a woman's eyes begin to water. Halfway through a song, Baker says, the women usually start crying. The men, on the other hand, might give an awkward smile. These four bright-eyed men admit they're hopeless romantics who love barbershop music. "The songs never get tired for us," Jack Newcomer said. Lead singer Bob Cochrane agreed. "You don't sing the song," he said, "you be the song."

Posted by acapnews at February 10, 2005 12:11 AM