It is hard to believe, but it has been 13 years since I used my a cappella group in a way which would certainly change my life forever. It occurred to me tonight that very few of our friends were with us back then, and so they likely have heard bits and pieces of the story, but not the whole thing. And while I am sure it is far from the only story involving an a cappella group serenade on Valentine’s Day, it is certainly a story worth sharing in my humble opinion.
It was February, 1999, in Potsdam, New York. I had transferred to the Crane School of Music the previous fall from NYU, and the shift in scenery from metropolitan, cosmopolitan New York City to rural, miniscule Potsdam was stark and dramatic. Instead of a college experience where students melted away into the background the second they left their “dorms” (apartment building dorms), at Potsdam there wasn’t much to do where you didn’t see everyone you knew.
The summer before I left for Potsdam, my high school girlfriend broke up with me, but we stayed friends and “friends”-in-other-ways. So, when I got to Crane, I still spent a fair amount of time on the phone or AIM (instant messaging… you know, it was an early way to chat online? No? humbug!) to Kenyon College, OH. But I met a girl in my dorm that fall, Karen, and I was smitten. I found out that she was a Music Education major, played the horn, and lived a floor above me in the dorm. She was from Long Island, like me, albeit 45 minutes east of my house.
In late October, the Pointercounts were performing at an annual swing dance, the Harvest Ball, and I saw her there that night. I told her if I didn’t see her later in the evening, I just wanted her to know that she looked beautiful that night. She was NOT my date to that event. <gulp>
I did end up seeing her later that night, at a party, and we talked and played drinking games until the wee hours of the morning, when we all trekked back to our dorm. An hour or so later, I went to the bathroom, when I saw her in the hall and said, drunkenly, “I had a dream about you” before heading back to my room.
Over the following weeks, we spent time talking, learning about each other’s lives and getting to know each other. We stayed up until 4:30 am, sitting in the 3rd-floor lounge of Knowles South, and talked for hours in a music listening room at the music library (when I missed one of only 3 rehearsals I EVER missed while being in the Pointercounts for more than 2 years). We flirted, we talked about going out, but she was convinced that I wasn’t over my ex-girlfriend, and I couldn’t totally disagree. I pined for her, and hung around her dorm room until her roommate forced me to leave numerous times during finals.
During the winter break, I did finally decide things were over with my ex, and I told Karen as much during our 8-hr drive back up to Potsdam in late January. She didn’t seem convinced or interested.
As Valentine’s Day approached, the Pointercounts began selling Valentine’s Day serenades for a measly fee. We would travel to any place on campus or off, for something like $5, and serenade the chosen target with any one or two of 4 songs. I decided to arrange a song, Earth Angel, for a baritone solo which I hoped I would sing. I don’t exactly recall the process, but I did get the solo. As Valentine’s Day approached, I found a way to add one Valentine Sing into our schedule without anyone really noticing. Don’t worry, I did pay my $5.
But then I had to make sure that she would be there, in her dorm room, at the chosen time. I told her roommate to MAKE SURE she would be there, and Valentine’s Day finally arrived. As we ran all over campus and town that day, I repeatedly asked to see the list. At least twice, I crossed off the one which said Karen- Knowles South. I felt it might be too bold a statement, too embarrassing, or simply awkward. I was also nervous because I thought another member of the group, with whom I was friends, might be interested in her as well. But each time I wrote the name back in. When we arrived, we sang the song and my voice wavered. I never felt particularly comfortable singing solos, preferring to sing bass or VP (more natural for me), but I was especially nervous this time. When we finished, she and Nicky (roommate) and Pete (Nicky’s boyfriend-now-husband) clapped, and Karen said she wanted to talk later after we finished our Valentine’s Day sings. The time we spent on the remaining serenades was both the longest and the shortest hours of my life.
That night, I got back to my dorm room and sometime later she showed up at my door. She asked if we could close the door and talk, and I said yes. I was expecting rejection, was expecting to be let down gently. Instead, I got a kiss. And then, while we kissed some more, several guys from the group came banging on my door, I am certain intending to interrupt what they suspected was happening.
We have been together ever since.
I asked her a few minutes ago, “Would you still have gone out with me if we didn’t sing to you?”
Her first answer: “NO!” Then she thought about it for a moment, and replied “Maybe. I don’t know. But if I didn’t, I would have been stupid.”
I don’t know about that, but I know arranging that song and spending that $5 was the best investment of time and money I have ever made.
PS- 5 years later, I got a few of those guys back together along with a few others and I proposed to her in a restaurant when she absolutely did not expect it singing, you guessed it, Earth Angel.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Karen, and thank you for keeping an open mind (and perhaps a blind ear).