Westminster Choir College students ask Rider University administrators to improve their conditions

Citing what they claim to be broken promises, a group of Westminster Choir College students and alumni have called on Rider University to either fulfill its obligations or make the Princeton campus available to them immediately.

Rider University officials disputed the allegations made against him in a petition signed by 130 students and alumni of Westminster Choir College. Rider ruled out moving the choir college to the Princeton campus at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Walnut Lane.

Westminster Choir College was an independent conservatory music school until it became part of Rider in 1992. The university and choir maintained separate campuses until Rider decided to sell the Westminster campus Choir College in 2016 for financial reasons.

Rider launched a worldwide search for a buyer who would keep the choir college in Princeton. It found a buyer in 2019, but the case was not successful.

Rider officials decided to consolidate the two campuses and moved Westminster Choir College to the Lawrence Township campus to coincide with the 2020-21 academic year.

Rider University was committed to improving the facilities at the Lawrence Township campus for the choir college, including an addition to the fine arts building and increased support for performing arts programs – choir, opera, theater musical and dance, according to the students’ petition.

The move from the Princeton campus was made with the promise of building a premier fine arts building with more practice rooms, teaching studios, performance halls, dance studios and offices for students. music teachers, according to the petition.

But none of those promises had materialized by the end of the 2021 fall semester, according to the petition.

“It is imperative that Rider University address our concerns and provide us with multiple appropriate performance and training facilities, or allow us full academic access to the Princeton campus of Westminster Choir College and its facilities which were built for. – and are particularly suited to – the needs of the college, ”says the petition.

The petition cites a litany of issues, starting with the hearing impairments at Gill Chapel. It is the primary space for rehearsal and performance, and these gaps make it difficult for students to get along and get along with their music, according to the petition.

There are not enough practice rooms at Gill Chapel, and the ones that do exist are inadequate, according to the petition. The pianos in the rehearsal rooms are of poor quality and not maintained. The performance of the Yamaha piano was also not maintained.

There are similar problems in the Beaux-Arts building, the petition claims. Classrooms, which are often used for choir and ensemble rehearsals and studio lessons, also suffer from poor acoustics.

At the Yvonne Theater, the performance space is not suitable for opera performances. The artists rely on acoustics and not on electronic amplification. To compensate for the poor acoustics, students must “over-sing” or force themselves to be heard, according to the petition.

Classes have also suffered, according to the petition. Rehearsal schedules have been changed and classes that emphasized concepts that apply to student art and careers have been changed. Language classes in choir college emphasized diction, musical phrases, and the “color” of a language, but they were abandoned in favor of general world language classes.

The result has been a drop in registrations, the petition says. The students have chosen not to attend Westminster Choir College this year, or they have been transferred to another school, according to the allegations. A smaller student body means smaller sets and fewer opportunities for representation.

Former students are withdrawing their support, the petition says. They do not recommend and contribute financially to Westminster Choir College “due to lack of communication and transparency” and inadequate facilities, as well as questions about the viability of the choir college due to the move, according to the petition.

But Rider University officials said the university had invested considerable time and millions of dollars in transitioning the Westminster campus and the facilities to support it – all in a very difficult tax environment impacted by COVID .

“We know that transitions are difficult and often require hard work to get it right. Ensuring that our facilities meet or hopefully exceed expectations is an ongoing priority, ”said Kristine Brown, Rider University’s associate vice president for University Marketing and Communications.

Rider University President Gregory Dell’Omo wrote in a Dec. 16 response to the petition that the acoustical issues at Gill Chapel will be resolved. The university installed acoustic equipment and wanted to wait until the space was actually used before making any further changes, he wrote.

Dell’Omo also wrote that the Gill Chapel can accommodate 230 singers in rehearsal, which is similar to the capacity of Princeton’s facilities from the choral college to the Playhouse and Hillman Hall. Once the university is able to return to pre-COVID status and unrestricted seating, the chapel will be able to accommodate the symphonic choir of about 80 students, he wrote.

Addressing the issue of the pianos, Dell’Omo wrote that they were moved from the Princeton campus to the Lawrence Township campus. Only the best pianos have been moved, and the Gill Chapel’s two grand pianos are tuned at least once a week.

There are 36 practice rooms spread across multiple buildings on the Rider University campus, he wrote. Classrooms that are not in use may also be available for practice time.

He added that the acoustics in the new music classrooms in the Fine Arts building are superior to those on the Princeton campus.

“Although the Yvonne Theater may not have been originally created for classical music performances,” Dell’Omo wrote, “opera and other classical performances occur in a wide variety of settings. ‘spaces, not all of which were designed for this purpose.

“We will continue to evaluate this space and its use for teaching and performance,” he wrote.

The Symphonic Choir’s rehearsal program was recommended by the faculty, he wrote. The Symphonic Choir will resume rehearsing four days a week in the spring semester of 2022. The schedule changes were a result of the schedules of adjunct teachers who were hired for particular ensembles.

“We agree that more planning work is needed,” Dell’Omo wrote.

Regarding the drop in registrations, Dell’Omo replied that it is difficult to overestimate the effects of the pandemic in general, but in particular on fields related to the performing arts. And if some alumni have withdrawn their financial support, “it is at best a generality to assume the reasons for the result”, he writes.

Dell’Omo also made it clear in the letter that Westminster Choir College will not be returning to the Princeton campus. Professors and students, however, are free to request space on the Princeton campus for recitals and other special events.

Acknowledging that there have been certain restrictions and limitations, Rider University officials have approved recital requests for several buildings – Bristol Chapel, Williamson Hall, Playhouse and Hillman Hall – on the Princeton campus, he said. he writes.

“While there have been challenges with relocating the campus, particularly during a pandemic, we believe the establishment of Westminster Choir College on the Lawrenceville campus has provided many opportunities to improve student experiences,” faculty and staff, ”Dell’Omo wrote. .

Earnest L. Veasey