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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Octet Sings Their Hearts Out

Octet Sings Their Hearts Out:
All-female barbershop group delivers singing Valentines
(Posted to 2/11)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – They bonded through a choir, gave their group a name and took their show on the road. Now these eight women are spreading the love and can be yours for a song on Valentine’s Day.

The group is called Matinee and they are an all-female barbershop octet comprised of ladies ranging in age from 45 to 80 who hail from Fairfield, Stratford, Brookfield, Easton, Milford, Trumbull and New Canaan. On Valentine’s Day, they will be visiting homes and offices to sing two love songs and deliver a rose and card. While they have already booked a few gigs, they are available to schedule additional appearances. A visit costs $55.

“We’ve been together for more than 15 years,” said Cathy Van Tornhout, 52, a leading member of the group who resides on Burr Street. “We took the name Matinee as we were all not working. This became our day job in a sense. We like to say ‘we do it in the daytime’. But now we do it all day long and all night, too.”

Tornhout said the group started out singing at nursing homes, ladies’ luncheons and other events that would occur during the daytime. They even scored some high-profile gigs like performing the national anthem at a New Haven Ravens game. For a number of years, they also sang at the annual naturalization ceremony held at Fairfield University.

“Our 80-year-old, Jan Dalgar, from Trumbull, even performed with a choir organized by Michael Bolton to compete on NBC’s ‘Clash of the Choirs’, a TV reality show contest that aired one December a few years back,” Tornhout said proudly. “She’s one hot ticket. Bolton called her ‘The Silver Fox.’”

Tornhout said their group is a subset of a larger singing entity. “We’re all members of a choir called Harmony on the Sound, a women’s barbershop chorus. The acronym is H.O.T.S. The chorus is a member of Sweet Adelines International, which is a women’s barbershop singing organization with approximately 50,000 members worldwide.”

Tornhout quipped, “Barbershop harmony was started by men but perfected by women. It’s not unusual within large organizations for members to put together a quartet or octet, to go out and have some extra fun, sing and perform.”

The singer said it has brought the women very close together. “Through our singing relationship, we’ve developed a pretty tight sisterhood and bond, watched our children grow up, grandchildren come along and witnessed events like the O.J. Simpson verdict and 9/11, both of which occurred during rehearsal sessions. These are things that will bond you.”

Tornhout said the group’s gigs have been very varied. “People will hire us for birthday parties and Christmas parties, as a surprise to guests. We’ve done weddings and funerals, too, which we call ‘gigs and digs.’ We even participated in an engagement, at a Starbucks in Trumbull, which was fun.”

With regard to the singing Valentines concept, she explained, “You’ve seen the singing telegrams – our idea to do doorstep performances on Valentine’s Day evolved from that. We usually wear all red or pink sweaters, black slacks and heart jewelry. When you see all eight of us walk in wearing the same outfits, you know something is up. We do love songs – mostly old songs – like ‘Always’, ‘Moonglow’, ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’, ‘Embraceable You’, ‘Unforgettable’ and ‘You Are My Sunshine.’ That will be our Valentine’s repertoire this year.”

She said people find the performances fun. “The reaction we get is very positive. People really seem to enjoy it. The men turn bright red. The women laugh or cry – one extreme or the other. When we go to an office building, we usually gain a large crowd by the time we’ve finished as people join us from their cubicles and offices.”

For its Valentine’s Day lineup, the group has been rehearsing at Turnhout’s Fairfield home but, on Valentine’s Day, they will meet at Dalgar’s house. “Jan’s home is the closest to our first booking and she has a minivan, which we call the Mat Mobile, as in Matinee, that we will all cram into. It’s like a clown car… and off we’ll go. We have four or five jobs booked already and hope to have more by Monday. It’s the kind of thing people usually do last minute and they choose us as a fun alternative to traditional ‘gifts’ like a box of chocolate.”

To schedule a singing Valentine, call Cathy at 203-255-1701 or Irene at 203-378-5764.

Man About Town: A Wilson’s BBQ Pitstop

Man About Town: A Wilson’s BBQ Pitstop
(Column appeared in Ffld Citizen News 2/9)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

It was early afternoon on a recent Sunday and town residents were taking a little breather between pummeling snowstorms. The sun was streaming down and the skies were a Carolina blue. It seemed only appropriate to two-step over to Wilson’s Real Pit Barbeque at 1851 Post Road.

Situated across from Hemlock Hardware, the shack-like corner restaurant was pumping out heavenly smells from an exhaust fan adjacent to the back parking lot and a small lunch crowd was enjoying the shop’s fare.

Fairfielder John Wrobel, his son Mark, 6, and daughter Christina, 4, were among the diners, and seated at a corner table.

“We come here once in a blue moon when I’ve got a hankering for barbeque,” Wrobel said. “It’s local and authentic, and the food’s not drenched in sauces. You can taste the flavor of the meat. And the mac and cheese and fries appeal to the kids. The atmosphere’s cozy, with a rustic feel. You can kind of get lost in here with its atmosphere.”

The self-dubbed “Proprietor and Pit Boss”, Ed Wilson, 61, was on hand chatting with customers and spoke about the restaurant’s inception.

“At age 50, I started entering barbeque competitions around the country,” Wilson said. “After five or six years of that, I decided, because there are very few barbeque joints in the northeast, to open a place on the lot here that I owned. The concept was well received.”

Wilson’s officially opened in March 2005. “We had a rocky start at first due to logistics and how to run the place,” said the owner. “I was in real estate for 30 years prior – this was really different. The ‘chef’ that I’d hired really didn’t know how to handle the mechanics of portion control and getting food from the oven to the plate. It took me 18 months to figure out and solve the issues. I was lucky I owned the building as I was struggling.”

Wilson has a definite position about barbeque and seeks to offer only the best food products. “In the South, barbeque is a cuisine. In the North, it’s an event. I fly my sausages in from Texas, my brisket has beaten Texans’ brisket, and my pulled pork and Carolina sauce have both won competitions.”

Wilson views his business as an extension of home entertaining. “I’ve always been a backyard cook. When my kids were young, I would do a cookout twice a year for about 100 people. I’m a pretty traditional barbeque guy. I know how to cook a whole hog.”

Jeff Dondregan, 40, and Derek Delorenzo, 39, were visiting the area as Fairfield University alumni and had heard about Wilson’s from a Food Network episode, and decided to check it out.

“I’m having a beef brisket sandwich that is just phenomenal,” said Dondregan. “I like the vinegar-based sauce the restaurant uses versus tomato-based sauce.”

“I’m having the pulled pork with Eastern Carolina sauce. It’s really good,” Delorenzo added.

They agreed that the stop had been memorable. “We’ll be back… with the kids… and the wives,” said Dondregan.

Besides the popular brisket, sausage and pulled pork offerings, Wilson’s serves up free-range chicken, ribs that are dry rubbed and slow smoked, BBQ sandwiches and a host of sides including collard greens, baked beans, mashed sweet potatoes and a tasty black-eye pea salad.

Wilson’s skills were learned from his mother Mimi, who loved to cook and use spices and would put her home cooking in front of anyone who showed at meal time. But Wilson’s childhood in the South may also have been an influence. “South Norwalk, that is,” Wilson joked.

As he coached a customer on a good sauce pairing for her meal, I gathered up my belongings and stepped back into the snow, the smell of Southern-style home cooking still tickling my nose.