Westminster Choir College Protests Potential Campus Sale with Music

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

Will music catch the ear of Rider University Trustees? That’s the hope. A coalition of Westminster Choir College students, alumni and faculty are in the middle of a 24-hour music marathon at the nearby Nassau Presbyterian Church. It’s a statement against Rider University‘s potential plan to sell their campus and move the college to Rider’s Lawrenceville location.

“While other people protest by holding signs and marching, we protest with this,” said Westminster undergraduate student Samantha Goldberg.

Westminster Choir College relocated to Princeton in 1932. It merged with Rider 60 years later to pull itself out of debt. According to a 1993 article in the New York Times, the agreement brought Rider a step closer to earning university status and allowed Westminster to keep its campus for the time.

Kaarin Record-Leach was there earning her undergraduate degree.

“We saw the buildings around us that were damaged, and we didn’t have the funding that we needed to be the best we could be. And Rider came and did a wonderful job cleaning up the campus and making sure that our programs are fully funded,” recalled Record-Leach.

But like other members of the coalition, she’s concerned about the change in culture that could come from relocating the choir college to the university’s main campus.

“‘Conservatory’ means to ‘conserve’ — you’re conserving focus,” said Record-Leach. “After I graduated, I spent 25 years teaching high school and middle school in the public schools. … and I know full well the ramifications of having a program where your students are torn between different activities.”

There’s also the matter of facilities. The Lawrenceville campus isn’t currently equipped to handle the choir college’s course offerings — though that could change.

“Just for example, we have an incredible sacred music and organ program,” explained Westminster graduate student Kimberly Reinagel. “So, with sacred music and organs, our organs are immense, and they are built right into the architecture of our buildings. You can’t simply pick up an organ and move it.”

In a statement, a representative for the university said, “…We are listening and have heard everyone’s concerns. … The Board will continue to evaluate the way we operate and explore all avenues and options to ensure a sustainable future for Rider University as a whole.”

A decision has yet to be made by Rider University’s Board of Trustees. In the meantime, the Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College is working to secure historic landmark status for the campus with the hope that might make a difference.