Conductor Wes Fisher established the group in 1969. J. Carl Borelli, Henry Gass, Frank Siekman, Lewis “Skip” Norcott, and Paul Cusano have also lead the baton to music that is “popular classics” and “classic pop”. More recently Charles Weiser shared conducting with our current director Willis M. Rapp, retired as Music Department Chair at Kutztown University. These names read like a list of “Who’s Who” in music in Reading.
The orchestra performs all around Berks County playing a wide variety of music including recognizable classics and overtures of Von Suppe, Handel, Strauss, Dvorak, Bizet, and Mozart. We cover American contemporary composers such as George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, and Morton Gould. Popular tunes from Broadway musicals by composers such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin as well as Hollywood soundtracks by the likes of John Williams, and others are programmed. Music of LeRoy Anderson, the “father” of the Pops genre, is often featured as well. The orchestra even swings! The versatility of the musicians is evident in “the group within a group” when the woodwind section doubles on saxophones creating the Pops Big Band. Rousing marches round out the repertoire of this lighter musical style ensemble.
The performance schedule of annual events consists of the Sunday with the Pops Series, performed at the Miller Center for the Arts, RACC, where name artists such as Livingston Taylor, the Four Freshmen, Tribute to the Beatles Classical Mystery Tour, and Ann Hampton Calloway, to name a few, are highlighted. This series also includes appearances during the Berks Jazz Festival, which have included the New York Voices, Keiko Matsui, Rick Braun, Chuck Mangione and others.
The Reading Pops Orchestra performed an all Gershwin program with pianist Clipper Erikson as part of the KU Presents! Series in October of 2014, a highlight for the orchestra musically and in audience appreciation.
The annual Father’s Day Concert, since the orchestra’s inception, showcases local talent. This concert is sponsored in part by the Reading Musical Foundation. The Muhlenberg Festival of the Arts hosts the Reading Pops Orchestra in a concert filling the auditorium. The Wyomissing Recreation department presents the Pops in a Concert in the Park at the Stone House to an appreciative audience enjoying the lovely setting. In December, music of season is celebrated with a Vesper Service hosted by the St. Daniel’s Lutheran Church congregation of Robesonia.
Customarily the community concerts include outstanding vocal and instrumental soloists, ensembles from within the organization, or noted members of our musical communities, and premiers of new pieces by area composers. This gives the local talent a chance to perform with an orchestra and promote the rich culture that is alive in Berks County. Students often gain their first experience performing with a professional orchestra, sitting side by side with teachers and mentors. YNOT award winners from the Berks County High School shows are featured as soloists each summer, a rare opportunity for young musicians to perform with an orchestra
The Reading Pops Orchestra has appeared at the Reading City Park Bandshell, sponsored in part by the Berks Arts Council and the Reading Eagle. Past events have also included an afternoon of music sponsored by the Friends of the Robesonia Library, participation in the Gring’s Mill Amphitheater concert series, and a long running Pops Dinner Concert series.
The costs of the concerts are shared by the sponsoring organizations, through an appropriation from the Reading Musical Foundation, of which the Reading Pops is an affiliate; corporate giving; an annual Gift of Music fundraising campaign; grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Berks Arts Council; and the U.S. Recording Industry’s Music Performance Trust Fund, administered through the American Federation of Musicians, Local 135-211. The orchestra is a non-profit 501c(3) corporation, and registered with the Bureau of Charitable Giving of Pennsylvania.
The mission of the Reading Pops Orchestra is to promote the musical arts in Reading and Berks county through the preservation of a professional orchestra for the performance of public concerts, and to provide a variety of historical and educational presentations of the classic pops repertoire, exposing the greater community to different musical art forms.
Visit the Pops Facebook at The Reading Pops Orchestra, or contact by mail at:
Reading Pops Orchestra
c/o 3314 Reedy Road
Sinking Spring, PA 19608