Westminster Honored for Excellence in Church Music Award

Monday, September 28, 2009

Westminster College of the Arts of Rider University was recently recognized at the 75th annual Charles H. Flax Memorial Concert during the Ministers’ Conference and the Choir Directors’ Organists’ Guild Workshop at Hampton University in Virginia.

Evelyn Thomas, director of academic support services and coordinator of the Educational Opportunity Program at Westminster Choir College, attended the conference where Westminster received the Charles H. Flax Award of Excellence in Church Music. The honor is named for Flax, an esteemed musician and former director of Church Music at the former Hampton Institute from 1934 to 1980.

“It was a tremendous honor for me to receive the award on behalf of Westminster College of the Arts,” said Thomas, who attends the conference annually in order to recruit students for the Educational Opportunity Program on the Westminster campus. 

The award not only recognizes Westminster’s background in church music excellence, but the historic relationship between Westminster and the conference over the years. Forty ministers representing various Christian denominations attended the first Ministers’ Conference, which began in 1914 in order to address the growing concerns of the African-American church.

Twenty years after the conference was founded, John Finley Williamson and the Westminster Choir visited. In 1934, “the Annual Choir Directors’ and Organists’ Guild joined the conference because of the successful visit of the Westminster Choir,” according to the conference’s Web site.

“They were so excited about Westminster’s visit. That’s how the music conference started because of John Finley Williamson,” Thomas explained. Even today, the Ministers’ Conference and the Choir Directors’ Organists’ Guild Workshop carry a strong bond with Westminster Choir College of Rider University, according to the conference’s Web site. “This is the icing on the cake to be recognized.”

Last year, Dr. James Abbington and Royzell Dillard of Hampton University created the Charles H. Flax Award of Excellence in Church Music in order to highlight institutions that have given service to church music in the black community.

 “We recognized Hampton University last year,” Dillard said. “This year, we decided that Westminster College of the Arts would be the most appropriate recipient of the award because its longstanding history with the Choir Directors’ Organists’ Guild.”

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