Back to School

The new year brings tons of new faces, an overwhelming sense of renewal, and the treasures that make up Westminster’s curriculum. It also brings about two very exciting beginning-of-the-year traditions at Westminster: choral hearings and first rehearsals.

One of the more exciting back-to-school events found on the Westminster campus is the choral hearings. Those two words spoken among Westminster students incite feelings of panic and fear as the entire community prepares to perform for the conducting faculty.

The choral hearing is a process that can be found all over the nation. What makes Westminster’s process so exciting is the entire community – about 450 students in total – goes through these hearings. The four conducting faculty get to sit in Bristol Chapel for five…whole…days and listen to every student sing, sight-read, and sing back pitches that are played for them.

Students come in with a prepared piece of music demonstrating their vocal abilities. After singing their piece, they’re given a sight-reading example. If you were to interview the Westminster population, the one aspect of the hearings that triggers fear in the hearts of most are the sight-reading examples. Why are these so scary? Most of the time, these examples are just plain difficult. Rumor has it that a few years ago a cello line from a Bach cantata was excerpted as the sight-reading example. Needless to say, the sight-reading portion of the hearing is generally the hardest. Lastly, the tonal memory is four examples of a collection of pitches, ranging from about 4-5 tones, which are to be sung back after a single hearing. Once these three sections are complete, the choral hearing process is over.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “what’s so hard about that?” The choral hearings are also what decide the extracurricular ensembles. A system of numerical rankings determines the roster of all the ensembles. A stressful time, indeed, as all students are vying for their own spot in the ensemble of their choosing. However, Westminster’s strong history for community and secure sense of family truly stands tall against the evils of competition.

As the school days begin, I feel a strong sense of returning to family, as if I was heading back home for a family reunion. After seeing familiar faces, catching up with friends both new and old, life’s stresses quickly go away. It’s funny how that’s all it takes to ease one’s burdened mind.

Westminster Choir members got to meet their new family today during our first rehearsal. We spent a good amount of time introducing ourselves to one another and getting to know our fellow brothers and sisters in music. The choir spends so much time together that it’s necessary to get to know each other immediately. Dr. Miller eloquently stated the history of Westminster Choir that it was a precursor to the founding of the college, as well as kind threats about missing rehearsals. Nervous laughter and hearty greetings were shared as welcoming tidings continued. I sat bubbling with energy as our family, new and old, was together again. After a quick voicing by Dr. Miller, we sat in our chairs surrounded by loving friends of past and present. It’s incredible to think about the symbiotic relationship that will soon develop and we become the Westminster Choir of 2013-2014.

Although the year is still fresh, the exciting electricity of music making was seething throughout the room. Once our academic schedule picks up and the beautiful music pours from everyone’s souls, the choir will become home to 44 artists yearning to share their talent with the world. Until next time, friends. 

About Westminster Choir

Westminster Choir is composed of students at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, a center for music study in Princeton, N.J.
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