Twenty years ago I spent some months guest teaching in Princeton University’s music department. But a couple of blocks away from my rented house, in a leafy part of town, I discovered Westminster Choir College, a remarkable foundation where all the students were singers, working together daily in choirs of all shapes and sizes while studying for many different college courses. Of course our Oxbridge choral scholars also have a version of this experience, but to me, WCC’s sheer variety of focused choral activities seemed more generous, though of a similar standard to its English counterparts.
It was with extra interest therefore this week that I joined a guest Zoom class being run transatlantically by Simon Halsey, no less – appearing every bit as energetic and efficient online as he is in real life. WCC students were exploring a series of very recent works with Simon, and today it was the turn of my William Blake setting, My Guardian Angel. Next up would be David Lang, with other distinguished colleagues waiting in the wings.
We finished with a Q+A session, many thoughtful questions being asked about my choral style, and about John Tavener, whose The Lamb had also figured in the course. As a light-hearted ending, a student asked me about my favourite memory of Princeton. I immediately recalled the town’s springtime range of temperatures, rising or falling thirty degrees Fahrenheit on any random day. Which produced suddenly appearing avenues of cherry and magnolia blossom, quite psychedelic in effect, a joyful bonus on our daily rounds. But, rather poignantly, I learned after the broadcast that, at the start of this academic year, WCC left its grand Princeton premises and gardens to join its parent campus, Rider University, a few miles away in Lawrenceville. The future of that beautiful tract of land I remembered seems to be still in doubt. Once we re-enter normal life, we may discover many such changes have taken place while our attention was elsewhere.