November 9, 2022

Princeton University Chapel’s Acoustics Are Ideal for Annual Westminster Event

MARKING A MILESTONE: Westminster Choir College of Rider University celebrates the 30th anniversary of the popular “An Evening of Readings and Carols” at Princeton University Chapel on December 9 and 10.

By Anne Levin

With the addition of high school students this year and the return of an alumni choir, Westminster Choir College of Rider University’s upcoming performances of “An Evening of Readings and Carols,” at Princeton University Chapel December 9 and 10, are truly multi-generational.

The performances, which represent Westminster students’ culminating event for the fall semester, will include a high school honor choir featuring local students who have been recommended by their choral directors. “Readings and Carols,” which regularly fills the chapel, features numerous works from the choral repertoire, several works played by the Westminster Concert Bell Choir including a transcription of “Trepak” from The Nutcracker, and more.

“This is the second year we’re having the alumni choir. But it is the first time we’re putting together a high school honor choir,” said Jason Vodicka, a graduate of Westminster Choir College, associate dean of Rider’s College of Arts and Sciences, and associate professor of music education at Westminster. “We’ve had groups like the Princeton Girlchoir and American Boychoir sing with us in the past. But we thought this year it would be worthwhile to extend it to a wider variety of students.”

“Readings and Carols” was first established by Westminster professor James Jordan and Westminster Concert Bell Choir conductor Kathleen Ebling Shaw in 1992, the same year the choir college merged with Rider University. The performance is based on the King’s College (U.K.) service, “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” which features traditional Bible texts, hymns, and prayers to celebrate the holiday season.

The event has evolved over the years. “It is truly immersive,” said Vodicka. “It does feature Christmas carols, but also other pieces of non-religious music. Instead of biblical readings, we use different ones from a variety of authors from different faith traditions.”

Part of what makes the event magical is the venue. The majestic Princeton University Chapel, built in 1928, is known for its acoustics and its Mander-Skinner organ, which “has pipe work that surrounds the entire room,” said Vodicka. “The choir literally surrounds the audience, too, and it is really something special to be in the middle of music like that.”

In the past, archival recordings of “Readings and Carols” have been made available through WWFM radio station. This year, a campaign has been launched to enable Westminster to record and televise the event, allowing audiences all over the world to experience the event.

“Since we’re celebrating 30 years, we decided to have a video recorded for the first time,” Vodicka said. “We feel like what we do is right up there with programs from other colleges, and this is a way to share that Princeton tradition more widely. The room is very dim, so there has always been an issue about whether we should supplement it with lighting. But technology is now at a point where we don’t have to do a lot to capture it. So we’re raising money for that.”

The chapel dates roughly to about the same time as the founding of Westminster, which was based in Princeton from 1932 until Rider relocated the school to its Lawrence Township campus in 2020 after attempting to sell the Princeton property.

“There is something in the aesthetic of the space that is also in common with our school,” said Vodicka. “That means a lot.”

Tickets are available at