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A Prescription for Song

Doctors perform in singing group

May 20, 2012
By JOSH BROKAW (Sun-Gazette Correspondent) , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

The origins of Docapella, an a capella singing group made up of Susquehanna Health physicians, are unclear, but the amorphous collective of busy doctors is still able to get together for performances here and there.

"The origins are almost legendary, mythical, shaded in the mists of antiquity," said Dr. Keith Shenberger, a rheumatologist for Susquehanna Health. "The earliest gigs dip into the later years of the last century."

Docapella performs, on average, about twice a year. In 2011, they rendered the National Anthem at Bowman Field before a Williamsport Crosscutters game, and also sang for the city's Victorian Christmas event on the porch of one of Fourth Street's many historic homes.

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Docapella is an a capella singing group made up of Susquehanna Health physicians.

"We do a mean 'Star Spangled Banner,' " Shenberger said. "They didn't make us dress up for the Christmas celebration; we wear scrubs sometimes - that's about as dressy as we get."

In recent years, the group has also performed for the House of Delegates at the Pennsylvania Medical Society when internist Dr. Daniel Glunk was made president of that governing body, and sang for the Little League International board of directors.

"I have no idea how this story got around," Shenberger said. "We don't have an agent - if we take any more gigs I'm not doing my job."

To call Shenberger's position within the group a "job," however, is probably overstating the case.

"I'm looked at as the sort of convener - more like the referee than anything," Shenberger said. "Doctors don't put up with 'leaders' - there's an old joke about getting together doctors is much like herding cats."

The group has counted as many as 18 in its floating membership, though not everyone can always get together at the same time. For performances, they attempt to have at least eight singers on hand, so that they can double each one of the four parts.

"It's nice to have someone covering you on each part," Shenberger said. "I guess most of us sang in college, at least in choirs or glee clubs, if not smaller groups, and most have sang in a church choir here or there, but most of us could use some voice lessons."

Docapella is primarily a male group, although Dr. Carmen Spinney, of Jersey Shore Medical Associates, often plays and sings with them as the ensemble's lone soprano. She certainly does not need lessons, Shenberger said.

"I was helping play piano, and just jumped in when they didn't have enough (to sing) one time," Spinney said. "It was a very long time ago."

Docapella doesn't have an extensive repertoire, since they rarely practice - much like a church choir, they perform more than sing, Shenberger said - but they do have a few favorite pieces.

The bluegrass standard "Grandfather's Clock" - probably known in the States best as a song by Johnny Cash - is a touchstone work for the group and Docapella also likes to use arrangements from Robert Shaw, the conductor and arranger whose eponymous "Chorale" put several albums on the charts in the 1950s and '60s while maintaining a rigorous international touring schedule.

Docapella also performs a medically-oriented riff on "Aura Lee" (a Civil War standard once made famous in the 1930s by the infamous Frances Farmer and later ripped off for the melody to Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender") and have a few more "barbershop-y" pieces they know, according to Shenberger.

Do the good doctors plan on ramping up their singing career anytime soon?

"Uhh, no," Shenberger said.

"This is pretty much the peak for us, considering our age - we've got all the performances lined up we can handle."



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