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Hagerstown man believes in barbershop quartets

Howard Nicholas' life, outside of his family, is singing or fishing

Howard Nicholas' life, outside of his family, is singing or fishing

February 06, 2008|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN -- Howard Nicholas doesn't like silence.

He's much happier when the radio is on - tuned to the sound of Big Bands or "golden oldies" - or he's making music himself.

Nicholas, 81, grew up with the sounds of barbershop music. His older brother sang in a quartet, then Nicholas joined a barbershop quartet when he was 9.

Two of Nicholas' four sisters married singers of the quartet he sang in as a young man.

For 62 years, Nicholas has been a member of the Barbershop Harmony Society. He joined in 1946 when he was in the U.S. Navy.

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"After all these years, my interest has not diminished one iota," Nicholas said of barbershop singing. "It's what I believe in."

Nicholas has lived in Connecticut, New York and other places before moving to Hagerstown in 1965. He and his wife, Bette, met in New York, married 57 years ago and have three sons.

"My life, outside of my family, is singing and fishing. I don't go beyond that," said Nicholas, who lives on Beacon Lane in Hagerstown.

When Fairchild bought Republic, Nicholas was asked to come to Hagerstown. He agreed to the move only after he saw the listing for the Mason-Dixon Barbershop Chorus of Hagerstown in the local phone book.

Six months after joining the group, he became president. He now is the performance coordinator.

The chorus is known for its annual Singing Valentine fundraiser. For $40, a quartet will travel to a workplace, nursing home or private home in Washington County or Franklin County in Pennsylvania. They will sing two love songs, take a Polaroid photograph of the quartet and the recipient, and give the recipient a teddy bear and card from the sender, Nicholas said.

"I've sung all my life. There's no greater pleasure than Singing Valentines. You don't know what to expect," Nicholas said.

Most years, three quartets travel on Feb. 12 and 13 between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. to accommodate the approximately 50 requests for Singing Valentines. Nicholas has sung every year he's been a member of the Mason-Dixon chorus, taking time off of work to do so before his retirement in 1991.

This year, because of health reasons, he won't be singing.

"You see more tears of joy than you can imagine," Nicholas said. "We always carry Kleenex with us."

He remembers serenading a couple at Red Lobster on a busy night, then watching the gentleman get down on one knee and propose. The woman said "yes."

Once expenses are paid - mainly Polaroid film, because quartet members pay for their own meals and donate the gas - the proceeds are donated to charity. Some charities that have benefited from the Singing Valentines include the Alzheimer's Association, Community Free Clinic and Union Rescue Mission.

The Mason-Dixon Barbershop Chorus always is looking for new singers. They rehearse every Monday night at Haven Lutheran Church. Nicholas said the quartet he sings with also sings together on Wednesday afternoons.

Singing Valentines are on a first-come, first-served basis. To arrange for a Singing Valentine, call 301-739-3782 in Washington County or 717-328-3674 in Franklin County by Feb. 11 at 6 p.m.

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