So you’re not only a singing telegram, but an owner of the business?
Absolutely. Co-owner with my partner Kevin Shredder.
Shade and Shredder?
Yup. He shreds on the saxophone.
So, for those who’ve been living in a box, what is a singing telegram?
Well, let me just back up and tell you how it all goes. Customers contact us and set up a surprise singing telegram to help celebrate a special occasion. So I send out the customer a detailed questionnaire to fill out. The answers that they provide not only help me to customize a song, but also allow me to get to know the recipient, so I can incorporate other personal elements into the act. Usually the person who ordered the telegram and I will collaborate to create a fun and sometimes elaborate way to surprise the recipient. As well, we decide on what type of song they want customized and what costume I will wear at the event. Then, on the chosen day I dress up in whatever costume and we go. My partner Kevin usually drives while I get things ready in the back of the van. We find the location and I barge in with a bouquet of treated balloons, party favours and customized gifts. After serenading the recipient, I also leave them with a copy of the lyrics, which are laminated on decorative paper. At the end of the performance, I sort of just hand out business cards, we take some pictures and then I’m on my way.
Looking at your photos, you have a lot of costumes.
Yes, and that’s all me in there, so....
How many costumes do you have?
I think I have about 30 right now.
And those are tailored for the situation?
Yeah, exactly. And you can pick and choose from the costumes and mix and match and I’ll also do impersonations. So I’ve done Janis Joplin, Lady Gaga, Cher, Carrie Underwood. All funny, not serious whatsoever.
Are the songs based on songs people know, or do you make them up?
I custom write the songs to the tune of whatever they choose. Say your favourite musician is Sting — I could customize a song to the tune of a Sting song.
What’s the weirdest event you’ve gone to?
There’s been lots of weird ones. The one that just pops into my mind as the most interesting one is... a really elaborate same-sex marriage proposal telegram. It was a year or two ago. The customer who ordered, who was also the proposer, had rented a limousine for his partner, friends and family to take a luxury drive and admire the Christmas lights in downtown Calgary. So we had staged it so they would stop for gas and I, who was dressed as an elf, would barge into the limo, frantically saying that I was late for a Christmas party and my car just died, can you please drop me off a few blocks south? etc. Of course, the family was so gracious and they let me in and as the limo drove off, I explained to the crowd that I was actually singing at this Christmas party I was late for and would they mind if I warmed up my voice. They were like, ‘sure, no problem.’ They all felt so bad that I was late for this party. And then I sang the customized proposal song and everyone was just completely shocked. It was a beautiful moment for everyone and completely family-friendly.
And I hope the answer was yes for the proposal.
Yes, it was.
I’m going out on a limb here and assuming you’re a bit of an extrovert.
Are you shy in your regular life and this is your outlet?
You know what, I would say that I actually probably am shy in my personal life. Isn’t it funny the way that happens sometimes.
How long has the business been going?
It’s been going for about three years. Just before I forget, we also do gag-o-grams, which are pranks, all in good taste. Someone will hire me to play a neurotic patient, a fake divorce client, annoying customer, bag lady, etc. Just wanted to throw that out there because it’s not always singing telegrams that we do. Again, they’re all in good taste because I would never want to traumatize anybody.
So you’d go into a lawyer’s office and pretend to be a really difficult client?
Yeah. I’ve been staged as a new patient for a doctor and I literally go in, sit down and he examines me, talks to me and then things just get weirder from there. All sorts of weird things and requests.
Do you have a background in theatre or anything?
I have a diploma in music, with a major in voice. I got that about 10 years ago and since then I’ve been in musical theatre productions, performed in shows in Nashville and Vegas, sang in every type of band you can imagine, from heavy metal to rap. I just got to the point where I realized I was going to have to wear many different hats to make a living as a performer, which we all do usually. And so starting up Calgary Singing Telegrams with my partner Kevin just seemed like another zany idea to try and three years later it’s still going strong.
Do you still sing in any bands?
Yeah, my partner and I are entrepreneurs. We run a recording studio, a record label, a music school and a singing telegram business. As well we both have music diplomas. Kevin’s a sound engineer and entertainment co-ordinator for the downtown association and as well we live in Vegas part-time and perform there. So, we keep busy. The great thing about what we do is that as busy as we are, we still have the freedom to move our schedules around to accommodate the singing telegram business.
So this thing’s going to be around a while.
Yeah, we’re always trying to make it bigger and better. We’ve even been approached by producers who’ve shown interest in creating a reality show around the business.
That’s actually a great idea.
Yeah, another potential project in the future.