Westminster Choir College

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Westminster Choir College
Westminster shield.png
Motto Latin: Spectemur agendo
Motto in English
Let us be judged by our deeds
Established 1926
Type Private
Endowment $20 million
President Mordechai Rozanski
Dean Robert L. Annis
Academic staff
Undergraduates 400
Postgraduates 110
Location Princeton, New Jersey, United States
Campus Suburban, 23 acres (93,000 m²)
(Princeton Borough and Township)
Colors Purple and Gold         
Mascot None
Website Westminster Choir College
Rider Logo.jpg

Westminster Choir College is a residential conservatory of music located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. It is part of Rider University.

Westminster Choir College educates men and women at the undergraduate and graduate levels for musical careers in music education, voice performance, piano performance, organ performance, pedagogy, music theory and composition, conducting, sacred music, and arts management; professional training in musical skills with an emphasis on performance is complemented by studies in the liberal arts. All students study with Westminster's acclaimed voice faculty, the largest voice faculty in the world. Westminster's proximity to New York City and Philadelphia provides students with easy access to the musical resources of both cities.


1920–1932: Presbyterian beginnings to the creation of a college[edit]

John Finley Williamson founded the Westminster Choir in 1920 at the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Dayton, Ohio. Convinced that professionally trained musicians could best serve the church, he established the Westminster Choir School in September 1926 with sixty students and a faculty of ten. As the choir school and its choir's reputation grew, the demand for the school's graduates increased. The graduates came to be known as Ministers of Music, a term coined by Williamson and still being used today by many church music programs.

As early as 1922, the choir, then known as the Dayton Westminster Choir, began touring the United States annually and sang in such prominent places as Carnegie Hall (New York City), nearby Cincinnati Music Hall (Cincinnati), Symphony Hall (Boston), the Academy of Music (Philadelphia), Orchestra Hall (Chicago) and the White House for President Calvin Coolidge. Years later the Choir also sang for Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Westminster Choir made its first commercial recording with RCA Victor in 1926. Subsequently the choir recorded with major conductors and orchestras.

In 1928, the Westminster Choir and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski made the nation's first coast-to-coast radio broadcast on Cincinnati station WLW. A few years later because of the choir's growing reputation it made a total of 60 half-hour broadcasts from NBC's New York facilities.

Dayton-Westminster-Choir at Berliner Philharmonie in 1929

On March 9, 1929, the Dayton Westminster Choir performed at the White House for newly inaugurated Herbert Hoover.[1]

The first European tour took place in 1929 and was sponsored by Dayton, Ohio, philanthropist Katharine Houk Talbott and endorsed by Walter Damrosch, conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra. The tour included 26 concerts in major cities of Europe.

Originally a three-year program, the Choir School moved to Ithaca College in New York State in 1929 and enlarged its curriculum to a four-year program culminating in a Bachelor of Music degree. A major reason for the move involved the need to be able to reach the major cities of Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York by rail. All three were cities that sought the choirs under Williamson. This move ultimately proved unsatisfactory.

1932–1991: independent music school in Princeton[edit]

In 1932, the choir school relocated to Princeton, New Jersey, which became its permanent home. Classes were held in the First Presbyterian Church and the Princeton Seminary until 1934 when the school moved to its present campus. This was made possible by a large gift from the philanthropist Sophia Strong Taylor. The dedication of the new campus was marked by a performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B minor at the Princeton University Chapel with the Westminster Choir, soloists, and the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Because of his high regard for the choir, the services of the soloists, orchestra, and conductor were a gift from Stokowski.

Williamson Hall, Westminster Choir College.

There was a second European choir tour in 1934 lasting nine weeks and highlighted by a live radio broadcast from Russia to the United States. In the 14 years since its founding in 1920, the choir already had two European tours which earned it international acclaim and a campus of its own. The State of New Jersey in 1939 granted the choir school accreditation and the name Westminster Choir College was adopted.

In years to come, under Williamson's leadership, the choir would begin having regular concerts with the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Westminster Choir sang with the New York Philharmonic for the first time in 1939 conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. Since that time the choir has sung over three hundred performances with the Philharmonic, a record number for a single choir to perform with an orchestra. Later that year the choir sang with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. That same year the choir, directed by Williamson, sang at the dedication of the New York World's Fair which was broadcast to 53 countries.

In 1957, under the auspices of the U.S. State Department Cultural Exchange Program, the choir undertook a five-month world tour, concertizing in 22 countries, covering 40,000 miles (64,000 km) and appearing before approximately a quarter of a million people.

Williamson retired as President of Westminster Choir College in 1958. Williamson's retirement consisted of conducting choral clinics and vocal festivals throughout the United States, Japan, Korea and the Philippines. A South American choir tour was being planned by the State Department but was cancelled because of Williamson's untimely death in 1964. In accordance with his request, Williamson's ashes were scattered on his beloved campus on July 3, 1964. This was said to have taken place during the performance of the Verdi Requiem with the Westminster Festival Choir, soloists, and the Festival Orchestra conducted by maestro Eugene Ormandy. This performance on the Westminster campus was part of the Tercentennial Celebration of the State of New Jersey. The following day a memorial service for Williamson was held in the College Chapel.

In 1976, the choir college celebrated its 50th anniversary, highlighted by a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Shaw, alumni soloists, and the Westminster Alumni Choir on the Princeton University campus. Despite a promising future at the 50th anniversary, Westminster soon began to see its future and prospects for continued existence threatened. Facilities on the campus were in disrepair, and Erdman Hall was ultimately condemned as unfit for use. Recognizing that the college could not continue in this path, Westminster was forced with two options, either finding a larger university to merge with or closure.

1991–present: merger with Rider University[edit]

Several schools, including nearby Princeton University as well as Drew University, Yale University, The Curtis Institute of Music, and The Juilliard School, all had an interest in purchasing Westminster Choir College. The desire of Westminster to remain in its historic campus resulted in the college pursuing an arrangement with then-Rider College.[2] In 1992, following a year of affiliation, then-Rider College merged with Westminster Choir College and the music school became a part of the newly created Rider University. Despite promises that Rider would maintain the Westminster Choir College campus in Princeton, a mere two years later, Rider University President J. Barton Luedeke began exploring a move which would relocate the choir college campus to Lawrenceville, New Jersey, to be with the rest of Rider University.[3] By 1996, the choir college appeared to have a vibrant fiscal future in Princeton, operating in the black, thanks to increased enrollment and donations.[4] One year later Erdman Hall was renovated, restored, and reopened as the Presser Music Center at Erdman Hall, featuring teaching studios, a keyboard laboratory, voice library and resource center, and new classroom space.

Despite the optimistic future in the 1990s, by the early 2000s Rider University determined Westminster Choir College either must create an even stronger fiscal future or face closure. Looking for a way to control costs and more effectively create synergies between the two campuses of Rider University (Westminster's and the main campus), in November 2007, Rider University President Rozanski announced the creation of the Westminster College of the Arts. Westminster College of the Arts was envisioned to integrate Rider and Westminster more successfully, and create a new culture and environment of artistic excellence on both campuses. Westminster Choir College continues to educate Westminster College of the Arts students in the fields of piano, composition, voice, organ, choral conducting, sacred music, and music education. The newly formed School of Fine and Performing Arts serves as the gateway to receiving a degree in musical theatre, arts administration, and music, as well as a non-professional degree (B.A. in Fine Arts) in music, dance, and theater.[5] The creation of Westminster College of the Arts sparked heated debate among administrators, students, alumni and faculty that highlighted the divide between Rider's Princeton and Lawrenceville campuses.[6] Rider University continues to strive for unity between the two campuses while preserving the integrity and unique history of Westminster Choir College.

Westminster recently formed the Princeton University Program with nearby Princeton University. By reciprocal arrangement, Westminster students, except freshmen, may petition to take courses at Princeton. Generally, no cost is involved beyond tuition charges at Westminster. Students are limited to one course per term, to fall or spring enrollment and to courses not offered by Westminster. The program is limited to 10 students per semester, selection and approval being made by academic deans at both institutions. In return, ten select students of Princeton University study and take courses at Westminster each semester.

In 2005 the school unveiled an ambitious master plan calling for a new building and other upgrades, the first to be created on the campus since the college was placed under Rider University's stewardship.[7] The choir college also entered a cooperative agreement with the Princeton Regional Schools which allows for up to 40 Westminster performances a year to occur in their newly created Regional Performing Arts Center, heavily alleviating the struggle the Princeton campus had had by having no dedicated, large performance space on the campus.[8]

The problem of lacking a large concert venue was solved in 2013 when the State of New Jersey allotted $4.6 million to Rider University to be spent on new academic facilities for Westminster's campus. Combined with efforts and donations from various friends, alumni, and admirers of the conservatory, the funds spent on this project far exceed $5 million. The complex will be named the Marion Buckelew Cullen Center in honor of the philanthropist who died in July and made a $5 million bequest to Westminster Choir College. The new building will contain a 3,000-square-foot performance and rehearsal hall, which will be named the Hillman Performance Hall, in recognition of the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, which provided a $3 million grant to support the project. In addition to the performance/rehearsal hall, the Cullen Center will include a large lobby, a green room and three flexibly configured classrooms that will accommodate a wide range of academic and choral uses. The Cullen Center will include an integrated connection to The Playhouse that will provide improved audience access and amenities. To maximize the opportunities the project offers for enhancing The Playhouse itself, a campaign is under way to secure $1.5 million to upgrade this building that has played such an important role in Westminster’s history. Ground was broken for the project in the summer of 2013 and completion is expected by the beginning of the fall 2014 semester.[9]

Grammy Awards[edit]

Westminster Williamson Voices,
James Jordan, Ariana Zukerman, and The Lincoln Trio
Naxos Records *Nominated
  • Dvořák: Requiem; Symphony No.9 "From the New World", 2000
The Westminster Symphonic Choir
Zdeněk Mácal and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra
Delos Records
The Westminster Symphonic Choir
Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra
Angel/EMI *Nominated
  • Barber: Anthony & Cleopatra, 1983
The Westminster Symphonic Choir
C. Badea and the Spoleto Festival Orchestra
New World Records
The Westminster Symphonic Choir
Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic
Columbia *Nominated

Symphonic performances[edit]

The Westminster Symphonic Choir has performed with many major orchestras and conductors including: New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, and Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Symphonic Choir, under the direction of Westminster's Director of Choral Activities, has sung at individual performances of large orchestral/choral works with professional orchestras conducted by Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajan, Eugene Ormandy, William Steinberg, Leopold Stokowski, Arturo Toscanini, and Bruno Walter, and such contemporary figures as Pierre Boulez, Mariss Jansons, Erich Leinsdorf, James Levine, Zdeněk Mácal, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel, Michael Tilson Thomas, Riccardo Muti, Claudio Abbado, Seiji Ozawa, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Robert Shaw, Zubin Mehta, Albert Wolff, and Rafael Frübeck de Burgos. The choir has also received numerous invitations over the years to sing with such touring orchestras as the Berlin Philharmonic, the Berlin State Opera Orchestra, the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic when these orchestras have come to perform in New York and Philadelphia.[10]

In the Fall of 2010, Westminster Symphonic Choir performed with Jacques Lacombe and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in a series of concerts of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.[11] The Symphonic Choir also appeared with the Staatskapelle Dresden in performances of Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem in Philadelphia's Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and New York City's Avery Fisher Hall.[12][13]

Notable past and present faculty[edit]

Notable alumni[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ruth Fesler Lipman papers, Hoover Presidential Library
  2. ^ Ginsburg, Elisabeth (1993-03-07). "Westminster Choir College - A Merger's New Challenges". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-05. 
  3. ^ Ginsburg, Elisabeth (1994-07-10). "Choir College May Get New Address". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-05. 
  4. ^ Kandell, Leslie (1996-04-21). "A Choir School Is Singing Its Ode to Joy Again". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-05. 
  5. ^ "School of Fine and Performing Arts". Rider University. Retrieved 2014-01-31. 
  6. ^ Scanlon, Jess (2010-12-02). "All for One or One for All?: Cultural differences = divide between campuses". The Rider News. Retrieved 2011-04-05. 
  7. ^ "Master Plan and New Academic Building". KSS Architects. Retrieved 2010-09-05. 
  8. ^ "Westminster Celebrates Opening of Princeton High School Performing Arts Center". Rider University. 2006-10-12. Retrieved 2014-01-31. 
  9. ^ "New Building Construction at Westminster". Rider University. Retrieved 2014-01-31. 
  10. ^ "Westminster Symphonic Choir Performances". 
  11. ^ "New Jersey Symphony Orchestra September 2010-11 Season Calendar". Njsymphony.org. Retrieved 2010-09-05. 
  12. ^ "Great Performers 1011 | Dresden Staatskapelle". New.lincolncenter.org. Retrieved 2010-09-05. 
  13. ^ "Dresden Staatskapelle Orchestra". Kimmel Center. Retrieved 2010-09-05. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°21′22″N 74°39′10″W / 40.35624°N 74.65291°W / 40.35624; -74.65291