Westminster Choir College

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Westminster Choir College
Westminster shield.png
MottoLatin: Spectemur agendo
Motto in English
Let us be judged by our deeds
Endowment$20 million
PresidentGregory G. Dell’Omo
DeanMarshall Onofrio
Academic staff
Location, ,
United States
CampusSuburban, 23 acres (93,000 m²)
(Princeton Borough and Township)
ColorsPurple and gold         
Rider Logo.jpg

Westminster Choir College is a residential conservatory of music located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. Westminster Choir College educates students 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 voice faculty, the largest voice faculty in the world; the school's proximity to New York City and Philadelphia provides students with easy access to the musical resources of both cities.

It is currently a part of Rider University, however, ongoing lawsuits seek to end Westminster's affiliation.


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

In 1920 John Finley Williamson founded the Westminster Choir at the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Dayton, Ohio. In 1926, he established the Westminster Choir School; the school started with a faculty of ten, and sixty students. The graduates came to be known as Ministers of Music, a term coined by Williamson and still used today by many church music programs.

In 1922, the choir, then known as the Dayton Westminster Choir, began touring the United States annually, singing in 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 Choir made its first commercial recording with RCA Victor in 1926; recordings with other major conductors and orchestras followed.

In 1928, the Choir and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski made the nation's first coast-to-coast broadcast on Cincinnati radio station WLW. By a few years later, 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 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 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 choir under Williamson.

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; 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 sudden 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 an arrangement with the nearby Rider College.[2] In 1992, following a year of affiliation, 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, two years later, Rider 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]

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 Westminster's struggle from having no dedicated, large performance space on the campus.[8]

The lack of 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 donations from various friends, alumni, and admirers of the conservatory, the funds spent on this project far exceeded $5 million. Opened in 2014, the complex is 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 contains a 3,000-square-foot performance and rehearsal hall 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 includes a large lobby, a green room and three flexibly configured classrooms that accommodate a wide range of academic and choral uses; the Cullen Center also includes an integrated connection to The Playhouse that provides improved audience access and amenities. To maximize the opportunities the project offers for enhancing The Playhouse itself, the college secured $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 the Cullen Center was completed by spring 2015.[9]

On March 28, 2017, after months of speculation following an announcement by Rider that they were considering moving the Westminster students to the Lawrenceville campus and selling the Princeton campus due to purported financial problems, it was decided by the Board of Trustees that Rider would, instead, attempt to sell WCC to a new affiliate partner. A timeline of 12 months was established with hopes that a buyer would be found in the upcoming year.

Fearing that Westminster could be made to shutter its doors and cease its mission, a large ensemble of students, alumni, faculty, community members, and others gathered at the Lawrenceville campus for a silent protest on the morning of the vote, they sang the school's "alma mater" - "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" by Peter Lutkin - numerous times, hoping to convince the trustees not to silence the college, which has made an international impact on the choral world. http://www.rider.edu/pathforward

On February 26, 2018, Rider announced its intention to sell Westminster to a former steel and bridge manufacturing firm; this created widespread speculation that it was Gregory G. Dell'Omo's intention to scuttle the college from the beginning; this was also reported in a March 2018 Bloomberg Business News article which said that Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co. (formerly called Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure Co.) had agreed to pay $40 million for the college.[10] The sale subsequently faced opposition from state politicians on grounds of national security and lawsuits from Westminster alumni and donors and the Princeton Theological Seminary alleging, among other things, violation of IRS regulations.[11] Other concerns addressed the sale of an American institution of higher learning to a for-profit and non-American company with poor financial ratings and extensive ties to the communist Chinese government.

On July 1, 2019 it was announced that Beijing Kaiwen was withdrawing from the proposed purchase; this was followed by news that Rider would relocate Westminster's illustrious programs to the Rider campus in September 2020 and monetize the sale of Westminster's Princeton Campus for the benefit of Rider's debt.[12] At Rider University's convocation exercises on August 29, 2019 Dell'Omo announced that the sale of the relocation of Westminster and the sale of Westminster's Princeton Campus would directly benefit Rider University's ongoing campus investments.[13] Litigation has since expanded with the addition of an additional lawsuit, with plaintiffs and stakeholders from the Westminster community representing students, alumni, and faculty seeking to prevent the closure of the Princeton campus and the tranfer of Westminster programs to a currently non-extant facility on Rider's campus.

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, NBC Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Chicago 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, Charles Dutoit, Neville Marriner, Nicholas McGegan, 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 Frühbeck 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 Korean Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the Vienna Philharmonic when these orchestras have come to perform in New York City and Philadelphia.[14]

Notable people[edit]

Past and present faculty[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. Archived from the original on September 6, 2008.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  9. ^ "New Building Construction at Westminster". Rider University. Retrieved 2014-01-31.
  10. ^ Bruce Einhorn; Hui Li (March 20, 2018), Chinese Companies Are Buying Up Cash-Strapped U.S. Colleges, Bloomberg News
  11. ^ Obernauer, Eric (March 15, 2019). "Wirths seeks to block Chinese purchase of N.J. music college". NJHerald. NJHerald.
  12. ^ "Westminster Choir College sale scrapped, but Rider University returns to campus consolidation plans". www.insidehighered.com. Retrieved 2019-09-15.
  13. ^ "Rider looks to consolidate Westminster, faces new litigation". The Rider News. Retrieved 2019-09-15.
  14. ^ "Westminster Symphonic Choir Performances".

External links[edit]

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