BELLINGHAM — Quartets of singers from the Mount Baker Toppers criss-crossed Whatcom County on Valentine's Day, delivering dozens of love songs in four-part harmony.
For Andrew DeMulling and his three companions Thursday, that meant singing to a flustered nurse in a doctor's office, a ruffled bookkeeper in an auto parts store and a delighted school principal in a private school chapel.
Each recipient received two songs, a rose and a Valentine's gift that entertained the whole room.
Becky Dillard's co-workers brought her a chair to sit on halfway through the Toppers' performance at Madrona Medical Group. Nurses, receptionists and patients gathered in the cramped office as the nurse listened and laughed to the songs sent to her by her husband.
"How bad was he?" joked pediatrician Ken Gass as the singers left to pile into tenor Joe McCorison's Jeep to make it to the next assignment.
The quartet, named "U4(ee-uh)," was one of three quartets traveling around the county Thursday in a major annual fundraiser for the nonprofit Toppers. The group uses the singing fees to buy performance costumes, musical arrangements and travel expenses.
DeMulling, McCorison and the two other singers had about a dozen singing valentines to deliver Thursday. But the recipients didn’t always cooperate.
They arrived at Rain-Cap, an auto and truck accessories store, to find their audience, a bookkeeper, had stepped out. They soon returned to find her sanitizing the telephone hand-sets — she had been called back to the counter with the story that one of the other employees was ill and couldn't work.
So as the singers sang "Still of the Night" from among the chrome-trimmed mud flaps, Carma Pimento stood with a hand on her hip, shooting a look at her smirking co-workers.
"You didn't look sick," she said.
The members of U4(ee-uh) are among the youngest in the Mount Baker Toppers, where many singers are in their retirement years. DeMulling, 22, is an elementary education major at Western Washington University, and fellow performer Drew Osterhout, 20, studies physics there.
Osterhout learned about the Mount Baker Toppers while moderating an online discussion group about computer problems on campus when he saw a message from Jamie Severson, a 24-year-old graphic designer, wondering if anyone was interested in joining a barbershop singing group.
As he moved the question to the "off-topic" folder, Osterhout said, he realized that he might be interested. He loved singing harmonies, he said, but hadn't considered barbershop.
"I didn't know it still existed," he said.
Thursday, Osterhout and Severson joined DeMulling and McCorison, a 32-year-old computer programmer on their Valentine's Day route. They sang barbershop standards — songs about sweethearts hugging under the moonlight and pledging their eternal love.
Just before lunch, they rolled up to Linda Clark's house in the Columbia neighborhood. Clark, 45, has terminal pancreatic cancer and was resting in her bed snuggled with a quilt and her dog, Matti.
The four men filed into the softly lit room, introduced themselves and began to sing. Clark tilted her head back, closed her eyes and listened to their voices filling the room.
Before they left, they sang "What a Wonderful World," Clark's favorite song. DeMulling was so absorbed by her obvious contentment that Severson had to nudge him to remind him of his part.
"When I've had a hardship in my life, I've had a dream and that song would be part of my dream, playing in the background," Clark told them. "It is a wonderful world. It really is."