Tuesday, May 19, 2020 - 12:00
Westminster Choir College alumni throughout the U.S. , Canada and in the U.K. celebrated online
COVID-19 may have necessitated postponing’s Westminster’s 2020 Commencement and Alumni Reunions, but it didn’t stop the Class of 1970 from celebrating the 50th anniversary of their graduation from Westminster Choir College.
With the help of email and Zoom, an energized and creative reunion committee composed of Class of 1970 members Ann Fyhr Gamble, Jerry Metz, Midge Olsen, Sheila Sheffield Platt, Donald (Buzz) Proffit, Kristin Schumann and Susan Ziegler organized a gathering that offered alumni throughout the United States, Canada and in the U.K. to gather and celebrate virtually several events.
The festivities included the Class of 1970 Memorial Service of Thanksgiving, presented in the afternoon of Thursday, May 14. Led by the Reverend Doctor John Gottschall, the service included a live organ prelude played by Rev. Gottschall; a recorded postlude performed by William Weisser, scripture readings, and a photographic remembrance of departed class members. Since Zoom doesn’t support simultaneous singing, Rev. Gottschall played the accompaniment for hymns and class members sang with the Zoom connection on mute. Jerry Metz and Sheila Platt served as readers.
Later on Thursday, Ann Fyhr Gamble hosted the “Puttin’ on the Ritz Cocktails and Dinner Cabaret.” Seated before a festive gold background, Ann welcomed everyone and invited them to raise a glass to the Class of 1970, saying, “Today we toast our memories as students, reunited for a time, reliving our shared past and all the things that happened here that played a part in shaping us to be who we are today.” The complete text of Ann’s toast is at the conclusion of this story.
Thanks to the magic of Zoom and Buzz Proffit’s technological expertise, the group divided into breakout rooms for about 15 minutes to facilitate easier conversations. After everyone re-convened, Ann began the cabaret, which included videos of class members performing a wide range of music. The performers were Brian Long, who sang They Call the Wind Mariah; Douglas Renfroe, who sang Gounod’s arrangement of Bach’s Ave Maria; Sheila Sheffield Platt, who adapted — quite appropriately and hilariously — Stephen Sondheim’s I’m Still Here and Cynthia Powell, who conducted her Stonewall Chorale in Morten Lauridsen’s Sure on this Shining Night. Bonnie Bailey, who participated from her home in the U.K., prefaced her performance of Somewhere Over the Rainbow by sharing that every Thursday evening people with any musical ability throughout the U.K. stand outside of their homes and sing that evocative song to honor the nation’s healthcare workers. Needless to say, it was an emotional conclusion to an evening filled with laughter, music and community.
On Friday, May 15, class members re-convened one more time for more stories and to wrap up a fun, novel and memorable “techno-reunion.”
Midge Olsen commented about the gathering on Facebook, “Wow, who knew a zoom reunion could be such a success? It's so much fun seeing your dear faces, even on the computer screen.”
Reflecting on the cabaret, Brian Long wrote, “It was lots of fun and reminiscing, and definitely relaxing! I enjoyed all the performers and appreciate being the first one on the billing. Thank you for your thumbs up and applause!”
What was the secret to the Class of 1970’s success? “It was a hardworking, cooperative, and creative group of minds that produced a Zoom training session and five distinct events,” says Ann Fyhr Gamble. “There were many email communications from each member that facilitated what I believe was a very successful and well appreciated Reunion for our 50-year milestone celebration. We supported each other along every step of the preparations and count ourselves as fortunate to have accomplished something meaningful to share with our classmates and friends of our class.”
** Ann Fyhr Gamble’s Toast:
A Toast for the Westminster Choir College Class of 1970
Today we toast our memories as students, reunited for a time, reliving our shared past and all the things that happened here that played a part in shaping us to be who we are today.
We honor those who taught and encouraged us. We were extraordinarily fortunate to benefit from outstanding, world class teachers and conductors. We were encouraged to think deeply about the incredible partnership of music and lyrics and we were inspired to unite the magnificent pairings of our blossoming musical skills toward the mastery of the voice, the organ, the piano, and the art of teaching and conducting.
We prepared for performances that touched our souls and built our intense love of choral music. I think about Robert Simpson shaping 88 Freshmen in 1966, followed by George Lynn preparing us in Symphonic choir as Sophomores and Juniors, and finally as Seniors, Robert Carwithen molding us in the tradition of our Founder John Finley Williamson into a choir greater than the sum of our voices.
Dear friends, lift your glasses with me to our younger selves and remember with gratitude the days of our youth spent on the unique WCC campus in Princeton.