In a perfect world, you’d have your Valentine’s Day arrangements locked and loaded. Gifts thoughtfully curated, wrapped, and ready to bequeath to your boo.
But precisely nothing about this world is perfect, and you’re human, after all. Maybe time crept up on you and, certain you had at least one more weekend, you put off the shopping until...oops, it’s February 13. Or perhaps you did prepare but now find yourself second-guessing your choice—especially after, say, catching wind of what’s in store for your girlfriend’s sister.
If you need to one-up someone or just dropped the ball entirely, there’s still time—if you act fast—to woo your mate with little to no effort on your part. Enter: the Houston Tidelanders.
The men’s four-part harmony, a capella chorus is the Houston chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society. At 30,000 members strong, the championship group has been around for nearly 70 years. And in February, business really picks up—that’s when the Tidelanders deploy across the Houston metropolitan area to deliver their signature singing valentines.
“You’re missing out” if you’ve never received one, longtime Tidelander Pete Hasbrook says. “An annual highlight,” singing valentines have been around at least as long as Hasbrook has been a Tidelander—21 years. On February 13 and 14, a Tidelander quartet will perform a classic love song and present a personalized card and rose to your loved one at the time and place of your choosing—be it an office, a restaurant, or a nursing home. The most fun valentines to deliver, Hasbrook says, are usually the most disruptive.
“Some of the fun ones have been in the [school] cafeteria at lunchtime, singing to the principal, and the teachers are in on it,” he says. “You’ve got 200 people watching you sing to this authoritarian that’s normally in charge of your life ... how fun is it to have somebody totally disrupt the school day and make the teacher not in charge anymore?”
The singing valentine recipients’ reactions can rut the gamut from thrilled to embarrassed and are often a combination of both. Hasbrook most enjoys delivering the unconventional gifts to completely unassuming targets in larger office settings where a crowd of coworkers will congregate for the impromptu show.
“Just kind of the build-up and the excitement everybody else gets,” he says. “That’s part of the fun for me.”
For his part, Hasbrook has been singing for most of his life, from church choir to college glee club to the Tidelanders, a side gig to his day job working for the International Space Station Program. Other less seasoned chorus members have to get used to the uniquely intimate experience of delivering singing valentines.
“We can put together novices and experienced people and teach our guys about barber shopping and performing and get them out and get them excited to perform for people and feel the love up close,” Hasbrook says, a goal that dovetails with the Tidelanders’ overall mission of musical education in the community.
For valentines, Tidelanders perform traditional numbers—think “Heart of My Heart” and “Love Me Tender”—and most are ordered by husbands for wives. Occasionally, Tidelanders will be hired to sing for other men, “which can be a little bit memorable,” Hasbrook says.
One year, a quartet delivered a valentine to a man who opened the corresponding card mid-performance, only to quickly close it.
“Does your wife do this every year?” Hasbrook recalls a Tidelander inquiring, to which the recipient muttered, “it wasn’t from my wife.”
(Sending a highly visible romantic gesture to your side piece—bold move.)
You can order singing valentines for whoever you want up to the day of delivery for $150, and orders are granted on a first-come, first-served basis. That’s due to demand and the delicate dance required to logistically fulfill an onslaught of requests each year—Hasbrook estimates between 40 to 50 performances between all of the participating quartets.
Behind the scenes, the Tidelanders are a well-oiled machine on February 14, using software akin to that of food delivery services to optimize routes and deploy resources.
“If you’ve got a bunch of them concentrated downtown, you can knock ‘em out,” Hasbrook says.
To try your luck on a last-minute gift, call 713-223-TIDE or order online.
“How many people get chocolates and cards?” Hasbrook asks (190 million–we checked). “How many people get a singing valentine delivered to them?”
Only the lucky ones.