Thursday, July 30, 2020 - 12:00
Dear Members of the Westminster Community,
I hope this message finds you well as we all adapt to the new reality of life during a global pandemic. COVID-19 has presented many challenges to the world, and those of us in the performing arts have been deeply affected by medical and scientific research and guidelines regarding how the coronavirus is spread. This has affected the totality of the Westminster community in ways incomprehensible just months ago. I congratulate you on the myriad ways in which you in the community have served others through music in the past months – truly a gift from the heart and a needed balm for many.
Before presenting specific plans for the coming year, I am pleased to include these inspiring remarks from Dr. Steve Pilkington, writing on behalf of the Conducting, Organ, and Sacred Music Department.
Esteemed students, choral warriors and budding artists all:
I write to you simply to affirm that with great love and a profound sense of mission, your faculty and Westminster’s dean have spent over a dozen weeks searching for wisdom as the truths of our times reveal themselves and, above all, as we seek to strengthen and uphold that tottering edifice which for many of us is both a spiritual and musical home.
The next ten months will engender a kind of institutional gap year in which the promises of great cultural change bring an opportunity to ruminate on the brave new world which is emerging and to envision and implement a plan of action that will lead the college forward with the kind of passionate vision and clarity of mind that determined its ennobling course one hundred years ago. John Finley Williamson himself declared in his final convocation address: “Ideas bring courage, courage brings determination, and determination brings action.” We, as the living and loving embodiment of an extraordinary legacy–students, faculty and administration alike–have the thrilling opportunity to determine a new and inspired course that might place Westminster in a leadership role even as we seek to bind up the nation’s wounds through the inestimable gift of ALL of America’s extraordinary musics. If accomplished, that would truly be something to sing about.
With gratitude for every student reading this brief note,
Steven Pilkington, Associate Professor of Sacred Music
Over the past few months, the faculty of the Conducting, Organ, and Sacred Music Department, along with faculty representing other departments, have worked diligently to consider options for the coming academic year. In multiple meetings and electronic discussions, they have reviewed the CDC’s ongoing recommendations, the evolution of Rider’s plan for the fall, and plans for Westminster’s renowned choral program in what is probably the most challenging year in the College’s history. Through all these concerns, faculty have kept the well-being of our community at the forefront.
The plan, outlined below, has been developed in the context of University planning for the coming semester, which is expected to include opening with a combination of online, remote, in-person and hybrid modalities. The plan is based on these assumptions:
- The safety of the community is our highest priority.
- Vocal and choral singing puts performers at risk, as the volume and speed of exhalation makes it difficult to contain the spread of the virus.
- Faculty are monitoring what will be possible in the context of a pandemic and how best to provide safety, consistency and continuity for the students.
- The performance calendar for the fall is still under review, but all in-person fall 2020 public concerts likely will be canceled.
To address the situation, the COSM Department has developed the following plan:
- All choral ensembles will employ a variety of virtual activities, and, if possible, occasional in-person rehearsals that follow health and safety requirements. If possible, the Westminster Concert Bell Choir will meet in-person.
- Guest artists will work with each ensemble virtually and perhaps in-person in the spring. The roster of guest artists is being finalized.
- We are planning to commission a series of works designed for these unusual rehearsal and performance circumstances and perhaps reflecting issues facing the nation at this time.
- Fall choral hearings will be held virtually, beginning August 22. Westminster College of the Arts students will receive a separate email with a link to the form to register for a hearing.
Of course, as with everything related to the pandemic, all plans remain fluid.
Diversity in Programming
As we examine the current curriculum in light of diversity and inclusiveness, we are moving ahead now with several initiatives. Discussions surrounding these actions reflect the seriousness with which the conductors and administration view the current global social environment. Each conductor is preparing a list of guest artists and composers whom we will invite to participate in ensemble activities. As soon as those individuals are confirmed, we will announce the full slate of activities.
Each conductor is preparing a repertoire list that reflects their individual care and concern for representative and diverse programming. In addition, we are planning to include The Color of Music series in this year’s performance calendar. At this time, we have had only the most preliminary discussions of how ensembles might be involved in the series. We have added SM 410: Survey of African American Choral Literature to the fall course schedule; Vinroy Brown will teach the course.
What follows are the specific plans for each of the ensembles. I look forward to the result of the immense effort of the faculty in developing what you are about to read. With my thanks to them and my best wishes for all to remain safe and healthy, and in the hope that we will be able to gather in-person at the earliest opportunity,
Dean, Westminster College of the Arts
Westminster Choral Ensembles 2020-2021
Guest conductors, clinicians, and composers will partner with all ensembles.
Westminster Symphonic Choir
- Dr. Steven Pilkington will serve as conductor for the 2020-2021 season.
- Recognizing the challenge the pandemic presents to rehearsal and performance activities, we affirm the value of this ensemble as a core experience for all WCC students.
- The Choir’s December concert with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s has been canceled. The Philadelphia Orchestra is still determining its spring calendar, which possibly will affect the February and March performances.
- Dr. Pilkington is planning to employ “two-week sequences” that will involve lectures, video-viewings, visits from virtual guests, and breakout sessions allowing students to connect with each other.
- A spring concert might include multi-media presentation of a work for choir and soloists is under consideration.
Westminster Chapel Choir
- Dr. Jason Vodicka will serve as conductor for 2020-2021.
- Westminster Chapel Choir is required for all first-year WCC undergraduate students, and it is open to other Rider University students by audition at fall choral hearings.
- Fall rehearsals will be held online and will include learning, listening to, and studying choral works, and seminars with guests.
Based on the following pandemic-related circumstances, Westminster Choir will be on a one-year hiatus.
- All Westminster Choir concerts and performances, including the November 2020 concert at Carnegie Hall and the January 2021 tour, have been canceled through the early spring 2021.
- The annual benefit concert at the Racquet & Tennis Club in New York has been canceled.
- The Spoleto Festival has been re-designed in light of the canceled 2020 Festival.
- With the cancelation of fall performances and the January tour, the list of the choir’s typical activities is quite small.
Recognizing that this will be a first in the Westminster Choir’s 100-year history, a one-year hiatus will offer the College the opportunity to reflect on the ensemble program as we conduct a search for a full-time, tenure-track conductor for fall 2021.
Westminster Williamson Voices
- Dr. James Jordan will continue as conductor.
- Continuing Dr. James Jordan’s association with Westminster Williamson Voices provides continuity that is vitally important at this time, and it sustains his estimable reputation with this renowned ensemble.
- Aurora, the ensemble’s new recording with Dr. Jordan, will be released on August 7 and is available for pre-order now from Amazon. Their next recording, The Stars Now Re-Arrange Themselves, will be released in early 2021.
- We expect to continue the Westminster Williamson Voices relationship with the Choral Institute at Oxford.
- Open by audition to all non-freshmen.
Westminster Williamson Voices Treble Ensemble
- Tom Shelton will serve as conductor for 2020-2021.
- Repertoire for treble voices will be drawn from all historical periods and styles.
- Open by audition to all non-freshmen.
Westminster Jubilee Singers
- Vinroy Brown will continue as conductor.
- Unfortunately, the May 2020 celebration of the ensemble's 25th anniversary fell victim to the pandemic. We expect to observe this important milestone this year, and we hope to complete a recording to be released digitally.
- Fall sessions will be entirely remote. Planning for the year includes the possibility of virtual concerts.
- Open by audition to all non-freshmen.
- Dr. Jay Carter will continue as the conductor.
- The ensemble will be composed of 8 -12 singers selected by audition.
- This year’s repertoire will focus on works written before 1800.
- Fall sessions will be entirely remote, combining Zoom sessions, virtual rehearsals, and the My Choral Coach platform. Students will record material to be edited together for a number of virtual recordings.
- Hopefully in person, spring will include a concert of Renaissance and Baroque Music from the Cathedral in Puebla (de Padilla and his pupils).
Westminster Concert Bell Choirs
- Kathleen Shaw will continue as conductor.
- Concert plans depend upon the possibility of in-person rehearsals.
- Malmark Bellcraftsmen has graciously agreed to provide Choirchime® instruments that can be sent to students if virtual rehearsals must be scheduled.
- The May 2020 national tour fell victim to the pandemic; it will be rescheduled for May 2021, assuming that touring and performances may resume.
OTHER CHORAL-RELATED TOPICS
Virtual Readings and Carols
- Discussions are underway to prepare a virtual celebration of this annual series of performances, which are an important part of the community’s holiday celebrations.
- At this point, we hope to combine recorded and virtual performances, which will offer an opportunity for participants to join virtual and pre-recorded choirs.
- A perennial favorite of audiences, we hope to include carols for live participation.