They come to sing, and to hear singing, and to see who else is singing. Then, perhaps, they may find someone interesting and do their own duet.
These singles sing-alongs have been going on at different residences in the San Fernando Valley for nine years, organized by free-lance journalist Rena Dictor Le Blanc, who was separated from her husband and was lonely.
Now Dictor Le Blanc is back with her husband, Jerry, but the singles parties have continued. Only about a dozen people attended the first parties, she said, but now as many as 100 show up, and Dictor Le Blanc said she’s running out of houses large enough to hold them.
The musical parties on alternating Saturday nights feature show tunes (called “A Night on Broadway”), opera (“Opera Encores”), or the newest addition, Yiddish folk music (“Back to the Shtetl”; shtetl is Yiddish for small village). The first Yiddish show is set for Sunday. Each show costs $15.
“I like cultured people, and this is where I can find them,” said Canoga Park resident Maureen Bascom, who has worked in a factory for 17 years. “My co-workers are into beer, cigarettes and sports, but I don’t drink or smoke. I like singing.”
So three years ago, Bascom went to her first meeting and eventually met Dr. Saul Matlin, an internist from Northridge who also plays the accordion.
“We’ve been going together now six months,” Matlin said.
“A good man is hard to find,” Bascom added, squeezing his hand.
A recent party hosted at the Calabasas residence of Charlene Capetillo attracted about 70 people. Some had to squeeze into the living room and sit on the floor.
“The first man I met at one of these parties was sitting at my feet because he didn’t have a place to sit. It was nice,” Capetillo said, giggling. “I’m 46, and I’ve gone out with a 36-year-old who came to one of the parties. It’s a respectable way to meet people.”
Sonia Flaum, from Canoga Park, started going to the sing-alongs seven years ago after her husband died. “My husband was a hard act to follow, and I tried a few dances and other singles events, but never liked it as much as these parties,” said Flaum, who became one of the regular performers at the shows and earns standing ovations when she sings “My Funny Valentine” and “I Feel Pretty.” She brought along a friend, Anita Capper of Woodland Hills, who is single after 36 years of marriage and comes to the Saturday parties to make new friends.
About one-third of the people at the parties attend regularly, more than half are women. Usually after an hour of social chatter with wine, cheese, coffee, soft drinks and pastries, the parties become a show with a paid professional singer and a half-hour intermission. After that, some members of the audience join North Hollywood pianist Wayne Behlendorf around the piano to sing requests from the group.
Although the parties are advertised for singles 21 to 55, the crowd tends to gravitate toward the upper end of that age bracket--and some surpass it. “We don’t ask for IDs at the door,” Dictor Le Blanc said.
The average age of the group disappointed at least two young women who came for the first time to a recent party in Calabasas. Tired of the bar scene, they said they saw an ad for the parties and thought they would meet men their ages.
“I’m willing to try anything once, but I won’t come back,” said Lisa Spiwak, 29, from Sherman Oaks. “I thought it would be a hipper group.”
Her friend, Bonnie Schachter, 38, who drove from Santa Monica, said, “I’d like to sing to Beatles songs or something that someone in their 30s would know, not something that was written in the 1930s.”
For the singles gathered at the party, mezzo-soprano Lori Berg sang show hits such as “Getting to Know You” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
“She’s great, isn’t she?” asked longtime regular David Schwartz. “It’s great to come here and meet women with some substance. There’s some great thinkers here.”
“It’s not threatening. You don’t feel like you’re on display,” said Betty Alberts of Woodland Hills, who came to the party with her friend and neighbor, Sheila Levin.
“It’s more fun than going to a movie,” said Levin, who added that she enjoyed the last party so much she brought a friend to this one. “And it’s closer than going downtown to hear music.”
A few women were indiscreetly eyeing one of the tuxedoed singers, Carlo Michael Mancini of North Hollywood, who whispered to a fellow single man: “Just keep your eyes opened. Sometimes some real foxes come to these events.”
People come from as far away as San Diego and Santa Barbara to see the singers who have entertained at such places as La Scala Opera House in Italy and New York’s Carnegie Hall. Other singers featured at the parties are Lynn Bell and Susan Rheingans of North Hollywood, Carlo De Constanza, from Argentina, Erica Tanenbaum of Tarzana and Wardell Howard of Panorama City, who jokes about being a black man who specializes in singing Yiddish music.
The parties have been such a success and have grown so large in the Valley and West Los Angeles areas that Dictor Le Blanc is investigating franchising in other parts of Southern California.
“People don’t have a chance to sing very much, except in the shower, and I can’t fit many people in my shower,” she joked. “So, it’s more fun to sing with other people here.”
For information about any of the parties, call (818) 716-7372 for the Opera Encores and Night on Broadway or (818) 703-5097 for the Back to the Shtetl hot line.