February 8, 2017

International Choir Festival at Westminster Provides a Break From Relocation Worries

Efforts continue by those who support keeping Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton rather than relocating the school to Rider’s Lawrenceville campus. A town hall forum on the topic was held Tuesday evening at the Arts Council of Princeton, and pressure on financially strapped Rider is sure to continue as the administration works toward a decision on the fate of the Princeton music school.

But from February 16 to 18, the choir college will be in the spotlight for another reason. Some 800 people, members of 20 choirs from four nations, will descend upon the campus for “Sing ’n’ Joy,” a weekend of concerts and competitions sponsored by Interkultur, a German company known for staging these events all over the world.

Interkultur’s website reads, “In 2017 Princeton, New Jersey will be the meeting point for choirs from all over the globe. In the world of choral singing Princeton, the city located south of New York is well known for being the home of the Westminster Choir College, one of the world’s leading music schools.”

The gathering has been two years in the making, and involved the cooperation of area institutions in addition to Westminster.

“What I like about this is that it really is a partnership of Westminster and Rider with the Princeton public school system,” said Anne Sears, Westminster’s Director of External Affairs. “They needed a large venue where they could sing for each other, and there are not that many places in town that could work. So the schools have been really wonderful. Next weekend is President’s Day weekend, and schools are closed. That means Interkultur will have access to Princeton High School’s auditorium and practice places, which are right across the street from us. So that really helps.”

The business community has also been involved in working out arrangements for hotels, Ms. Sears added. “The Princeton Merchants Association is providing coupons for dining, shopping, and different things for the folks who are here. It has come together nicely, though there have been lots of challenges.”

Most recently, there has been difficulty obtaining visas for two choirs coming from Indonesia. “But it looks like they’ll probably be okay,” Ms. Sears said. “I’m not sure if it’s because of what’s been happening with the travel ban, but we’ve been helping as much as we can. I’ve seen these Indonesian choirs perform before, and they are so interesting with their costumes and choreography. It would be a shame if they couldn’t come.”

Choirs taking part come from as close as Kingston (the Kingston Women’s Chorus) and as far as Shanghai and Beijing. Princeton’s American Boychoir and, of course, the Westminster Choir, will also participate. A number of concerts and other events are open to the public, with limited seating, and include competition and mixed choir performances. Among them are a concert at Trinity Church on Friday, February 17, which will include the American Boychoir and choirs from Beijing, China; Makassar, Indonesia (barring visa problems); Hollis, New Hampshire, and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

“There are activities people can come to. Part of the festival is a competition each day, where choirs sing for a panel of judges,” said Ms. Sears. “They are free, but people have to stay once they come in. There are two ‘Friendship Concerts’ in which choirs sing for each other, on Friday and Sunday, and they are both open to the public.”

With so much attention placed on the possible sale of the Westminster campus and the relocation of the school, which many say would be devastating, the choir festival is a welcome diversion. “And it’s a great opportunity for our students,” Ms. Sears said. “Many of them aspire to be teachers and conductors, and many are volunteering during the festival. Getting the chance to work closely with the choirs coming here, and making sure they have a wonderful experience, is a great thing.”