Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

From the Heart: River City Singers bring a message with their music.

Illustration by Aron Rook.

Hans Christian Andersen once said, “Where words fail, music speaks.”

When you sit down and chat with members of the River City Singers, you learn that their repertoire is carefully crafted to lead observers down a particular path—one that is designed to be impactful, yet entertaining; thought provoking, yet accessible.

Uplifting songs brimming with messages of peace, love and inclusivity are designed to transport the observer away from the cares of the day, if but for a few hours.

A group of friends with a shared passion formed the River City Singers.

“About a dozen of us used to sing together,” said Harrisburg resident Sparkie Radcliffe, who serves as the group’s artistic director, along with David Walker. “When we stopped, I missed it terribly.”

Both Radcliffe and Walker bring considerable experience to the table, with musical bona fides including, but not limited to, Radcliffe’s position as the former musical arranger for the Arcona Reel Band and Walker’s positions as director of the Hummelstown Community Singers and the Harrisburg Gay Men’s Chorus.

When the singer-friends decided to resurrect the idea of performing as a group, everything seemed to fall into place, including the practice venue.

“The Penbrook United Church of Christ was willing to give us much-needed rehearsal space, and various members of the church picked up that rental fee for us,” Radcliffe said. “They really are terrific people.”

Participants possess a wide range of musical experience, and the chorus is willing to work with anyone who is interested in joining.

“We welcome volunteer singers and instrumentalists from all ages, faiths, ethnicities and gender identities,” said Radcliffe.

As for musical instrumentation, it varies according to the mood of the song and currently includes piano, bass, drums and guitar.

In January, the chorus will celebrate its second anniversary. During this short period, it has expanded to 33 people, who rehearse each Monday night. Because the group is always open to new members, interested parties are invited to simply show up at the church to learn more.

“There’s not necessarily an audition, but we do require that they can carry a tune,” Radcliffe said, emphasizing that the group seeks passion over perfection. “Beyond that, any singer is welcome to join our chorus. Other choirs may be a bit more polished, but we sing from our hearts.”

Members of the chorus range in age from 19 to 84.

“That’s what makes it fun,” said Kathleen Daugherty, who has been with the group since its inception. “I love to sing. I’ve sung in churches and in my college choir. So, when Sparkie put out the invitation, I decided to join.”

According to Radcliffe, it’s not unusual for their performances to elicit a roller coaster of emotions.

“They bring both tears and laughter,” she said, reflecting back on one of the more light-hearted numbers performed last Christmas season. “We like to include the audience and, last year, when we performed ‘The 12 Days of Christmas,’ we divided them into 12 sections, and three of my neighbors were the three French hens.”

Daugherty broke into a wide smile at the thought, before referencing another song that most people find amusing.

“It’s called, ‘I Want to Stare at My Phone with You,” she said.

Like the makeup of the chorus, the material is inclusive, spanning cultures and generations.

Currently, the group is working on its upcoming holiday performances, most of which deliver a message.

“We sing a song called, ‘The Work of Christmas,’ which describes how the real work of Christmas comes after the excitement of the season is over,” said Daugherty.

When it comes to genres, the River City Singers refuse to be pigeonholed. Songs range from jazz to contemporary to ancient hymns. Radcliffe mentioned that the Indigo Girls song, “There’s Still My Joy,” may be performed on the same evening as “Boar’s Head Carol,” which dates back to the 15th century. Currently in the works—a Fred Rogers “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” tribute.

Radcliffe described the multi-faceted group as “multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-generational,” yet unified in one objective—to bring people together with a message of love.

For more information about the River City Singers, visit their Facebook page, “Harrisburg’s River City Singers.”


Sing Me a Song

The River City Singers have two shows coming up in December:

Dec. 2, 3 p.m.
Penbrook United Church of Christ
56 Banks St., Harrisburg

Dec. 9, 2 p.m.
Colonial Park United Church of Christ
5000 Devonshire Rd., Harrisburg

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