Former members of the University of Texas Longhorn Singers created River City Pops in early 1984. Directed by UT Alumnus Cindy Couch, the first presentation took place in May of that year. The chorus was arranged on risers in typical choir fashion and performed popular selections, singing with a bare backdrop, two microphones and a spot light that was a physician’s examining lamp. However, the audience didn’t seem to mind and gave the choir its first standing ovation.
In its infancy, River City Pops had to replace Cindy Couch who traveled to study music in Europe in the fall of 1984. Temporary directors came and went, along with most of the original members. Nonetheless, a dedicated group of singers held the organization together through the formative years and found a replacement director in Malcolm Nelson. He helped manufacture a respectable membership size and challenged the performers to vary the visual format by adding some simple rhythmic movement and changing positions between songs.
The next step in maturity took place with Edie Elkjer in her first show as director at the old Live Oak Theater in November of 1987 to a packed house. In this concert, larger group choreography was added to the mix of choral riser numbers. During the preparation there were growing pains for the membership’s new education in figuring out how to do the dance step called a jazz square or deciphering a grapevine. Edie Elkjer directed the choir through 14 years of many memorable performances that established a loyal following of devoted fans that remain to this day.
Cindy Couch returned to the transformed organization she helped create and served as Music Director once again from 2000 until the pivotal “20th Anniversary Show” in January of 2004. After celebrating with record ticket sales for the “20th Anniversary Show” with new members and returning alumnus, River City Pops entered adulthood, standing as one of the longer running performance organizations of its kind in Austin. Structural modernization to the administration this group brought renewed desire to enhance the enjoyment of the productions.
Sheryl Jones took the directorial reigns in 2004, leading RCP through a decade of performances and another reinvention. Modern artists have been intermixed with the classic styles of Jazz, Broadway, Motown, and Big Band works to give a true variety of styles in each performance. 2013’s “One” epitomized this style as the entire show consisted of award-winning music from many different musical genres.
This year RCP is once again looking in a new direction, and in a way, getting back to basics. “The British Invasion” celebrates the music of British Musicians who left their own stamp on American music, from the early days of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to modern artists such as Adele and Coldplay. Current and former members have contributed original choreography and staging to accompany each number, and new director Molly Wissinger brings her own unique vision and talents to the group.
There is more to the group than can been seen at first glance. The history of RCP is more than two decades of friendship and song. It is a history that inspires friends to assemble for rehearsals and work together to create fun, high quality visual and ear pleasing productions for everyone on both sides of the footlights. Talented members work in harmony on choreography creation, costume concepts and set building. History becomes the present with the children of the members lending a hand as stage crew or dancing in the aisles during the show.
History and the present continue to merge resulting in former members working as the House Manager or Box Office Manager. Ushers and additional production staff duties are handled professionally by spouses, alumni and other friends. The shared history lends feelings of extended family among the membership of River City Pops with large amounts of affection, compassion, support and laughter. Many close friendships that formed on stage remain after members cease to be active. Poppers share personal histories of weddings, the birth of their own children as well as birth and marriage of grown up children, personal obstacles, memorable successes and the grief of losses and give each other inspiration to overcome.
For the 25th Anniversary show, March 2009, a combined group of over 60 current and alumni members performed some of their favorite numbers from the past 25 years. This delighted many of our audience members who have been with us for 25 years. Our group many not have the professional quality voices as some other singing organizations, but when you add our high-powered choreography and showmanship, you get some great entertainment that is unparalleled.
River City Pops consists of talented people who love what they do and strive to do it well, with the pride of being the only artistic society of its type in Central Texas. After witnessing or participating in a River City Pops production, patrons and members leave the theater and go into the night with more than just the memories of the performance … they have added to the history, carrying that musical magic into the future.
Soon after our 20th Anniversary show, River City Pops began working with local charitable organization located in Central Texas, the goal being to contribute to a city and community that continuously supports and provides for the artistic styling of RCP. January 2005 was the beginning of a non-profit giving to another non-profit venture with our concerts benefiting other non-profits. For example, the performance series we did in the past for “River City Pops Colors Your World” gave support to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and South Texas. Members, production volunteers and ticket holders gave monetary donations and new, unwrapped toys and games for extremely ill children in the Central Texas area. River City Pops oversaw the collection of hundreds of toys and games, as well as generous amounts of financial donations. This recent proud tradition to benefit other non-profit community businesses and organizations continues and we hope to keep this going for another 25 years.
RCP consistently draws larger and larger audiences, necessitating the change in venue from lecture halls to theaters. Having sold out numerous concerts in other facilities, River City Pops proudly performs in the Debra and Kevin Rollins Studio Theater at the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Even with our growth, we still face many challenges. All non-profit arts organizations struggle financially, including this one, but we have managed to be that little performing arts organization that wouldn’t give up and is always trying to re-invent itself.