by Betsy Podsiadlo ’20
The constant and unrelenting pursuit of the highest, most intense form of musical excellence is not an inherited trait but a skill that is built over time. At Westminster Choir College, building that skill begins the moment you arrive as a first-year student.
My professors have instilled in me an understanding of why excellence in music matters: to touch people’s lives and make the world a more beautiful and accepting place. They've taught me that the key to working at the professional level is by learning how to “do business with yourself.” This attitude of individual preparedness contributing to group success is instrumental in the crown jewel of Westminster Choir College, the Westminster Symphonic Choir.
The Symphonic Choir’s devotion to musical success and professional performance is spearheaded by our fearless leader and unparalleled conductor, Dr. Joe Miller. His biggest job is to take a group of budding artists and prepare us to take the stage with some of the greatest performing artists of this era. Be it Metropolitan Opera singers, legendary oratorio performers or the New York Philharmonic players themselves, each of the individuals we work with has spent years building their skills and performing at a truly superior level.
This season, I had the opportunity to sing one of the greatest choral works of all time, the Bach Mass in B Minor — with one of the leading orchestras and conductors of this generation, the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Bach is not known for being uncomplicated, and this piece was no exception. Through the guidance of our professors and graduate assistants, we painstakingly learned every precise detail of Bach's great masterpiece. This intense preparation in class made it possible for us to truly focus on the creativity and emotion that rehearsal.
I was thoroughly changed as both a person and a professional musician after these performances. It was not because we sang every note perfectly but because of the lessons I learned from the journey I was able to take with this piece, from stranger to friend, guided by the hands of such legendary musicians alongside my incredible colleagues.
There are many choirs that could simply prepare and perform the piece, but the compelling distinction of the Westminster Symphonic Choir comes from its dedication to illuminating truth and humanity. Dr. Miller reminds each of us in the Symphonic Choir that being a professional musician is more than what we see on the page; it is how we share who we are and what the music means to us with the audience that determines who is truly great.
This culture of excellence inspires Westminster students to continue our pursuit of perfection, while our connection to the music and each other fuels the next steps for the Choir College and choral music as we know it.