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Singing at the top of their fingers

Press Shop | 12.20.2018

Singing Fingers at Governor's DeskThe Christmas carols start at 9 a.m. on the second floor of the State Capitol rotunda, just down from the Governor’s Office. The riser for the choirs is erected northwest of the top-half of the 25-foot Christmas tree, which is anchored on the ground floor.

Choirs sing straight through the lunch hour, all the way until 3 p.m. – 180 choirs at the rate of 18 a day, a new one every 20 minutes, for 10 days.

The singers travel from the schools in Cutter Morning Star and Pocahontas, from Alma to Atkins to Batesville. This is a big day, the chance to perform in the most famous and perhaps the most important building in Arkansas.

The acoustics in the rotunda are famously hard on voices, whether spoken or sung. Nothing helps, neither an adjustment of the volume of a public address system or going without one. But when a choir is performing, the marble walls and floor work magic. As you move away from the rotunda, north toward the Governor’s Office or south toward the old Supreme Court chamber, the unforgiving marble alters and softens the music. The ordinary human voices echo off the walls and return to the listeners as a celestial anthem, as if sung by a band of angels floating high in a cathedral.

But the marble walls had no effect on the grade-school singers who mounted the risers at 11:20 a.m. on the second Tuesday of the Sounds of the Season program were different.

Their voice requires eyes to hear rather than ears. They were the six Singing Fingers from the Arkansas School for the Deaf: Rafael, 6; Danielle, 8; Angel, 8; Egypt, 8; McKinley, 8; and Brayden, 7.

Governor Asa Hutchinson knows this group well. The Singing Fingers have performed at the opening of the General Assembly. In December 2017, as the governor was leaving the capitol late one afternoon, the singers were standing just outside the tunnel doors in their red-striped vests and pants, and Santa hats as sponsors Stacey Tatera and Lynn Brooks applied their makeup. The governor backtracked and knelt down to visit with them. Also, he wanted a photograph of himself with the famous singers.

Brayden Radtka is a member of the Singer Fingers. This year, Brayden Radtka’s grandfather, Jay, drove three hours from Mount Olive to see Brayden sing. The visit to the capitol was the first for the grandfather, who enrolled Brayden in the school when he was 3. When Brayden arrived, the child didn’t know a single word.

“He didn’t know anything,” Jay says. “The only thing he knew was our communication. We had our own little language. He had no way to communicate with outside world.

“Brayden was in this shell for such a long time. At the school, he has blossomed.”

Brayden doesn’t like to be indoors. “If it’s outside, he is tickled to death. He loves to fish. This little fellow can fish.”

After the Singing Fingers performed, they visited the governor’s office, where Brayden sat in the governor’s chair for a group photograph. Then Brayden and his grandfather posed alone.

Jay and Brayden’s teachers are confident that his future is bright – that he will graduate from college and, if he chooses to pursue politics, he could someday occupy the governor’s chair full time.

 “People told me just to love him, and we’d figure out the rest,” Jay says. “I am blessed to have Brayden. He has opened my eyes to so many things.”

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