On May 29th, at the age of 83, Donald L. Clapper passed away.

For those in Central Pennsylvania who love music, it is a particularly sad event.  And for those of us in the Harrisburg Choral Society, it is a loss of a major figure of our organization, and a longtime friend of the Society and its members.

Don Clapper's "day job" was Minister of Music at Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, a position he held for 43 years.  Not only did he play the organ and lead his choir during services, he expanded their program, creating multiple choral ensembles for adults and children, instituted the area's first hand bell choir, and presented concerts of music with orchestral accompaniment, including works by Menotti, Debussy, Britten, and others.  As an organist he was also accomplished, serving as the Dean of the Harrisburg Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, and personally supervising the installation of Pine Street's Moller Pipe organ, complete with custom construction.

In 1956 Don became the director of the Harrisburg Choral Society, and Pine Street Presbyterian became it's rehearsal home for nearly five decades.  Don raised the musical and rehearsal expectations of the group, expanding the repertoire and staging major works in and around Harrisburg.  He sought out guest singers like William Warfield, and began a tradition of "Summer Sing-a-longs" for the community to participate in singing major works of choral music.

"He was a great teacher" recalls Marion Baker, a current member who joined in 1977 under Don Clapper's direction.  "You didn’t just learn the notes of your part but how your part related to others. You didn’t just sing the words but understood their meaning and context. A whole rehearsal could be spent with Don telling us the story behind Mozart’s Requiem."

"Don was dedicated to the betterment and success of the Harrisburg Choral Society" adds Bill Sevon, another current member who worked as a production manager with Don.  "He was always trying to improve our singing and to make sure we all did our best.  He preferred the older master works although he did introduce us to some newer works such as those of John Rutter."

Don led the Choral Society for 37 years, performing concerts at locations in Harrisburg, primarily at the Forum and at Grace United Methodist Church.  He stepped down as director in 1992 as the longest serving director in the Society's history.

HCS Vice-President Suzi Zimmerman, who auditioned for Don, remarks, "Most of our [current] membership never had the honor and pleasure of knowing Don.  Those of us who did feel a deep respect and admiration for his dedication to and enthusiasm for the music we shared.  Mention his name and one pauses in reflection of his greatness.  He loved the Harrisburg Choral Society to the end and left a legacy for us to treasure."

This article was written with sources: Donald Clapper's obituary from Parthemore Funeral Home, Sing, Harrisburg, Sing by Ernest Morrison, and our members.

Our Sponsors

Pennsylvania Council of the ArtsThe Foundation for Enhancing CommunitiesThe Charles A. and Elizabeth Guy Holmes FoundationThe Joseph T. and Helen M. Simpson FoundationThe L. B. Smith Estate Foundation

Our Partners

The Civic Club of HarrisburgChorus America