An experience of beauty

9 July 2016

Thursday evening proved to be a marker in my musical life at Westminster Choir College and in Williamson Voices. With the high standard of excellence to which all students/musicians are held at the school, I have found this can create an environment of souls thirsting for affirmation. With much rigor and constant pressure there comes an even greater desire and need for remembering why one is involved in an artistic field such as music. This also makes the reward of intense labor incredibly sweet and satisfying when one experiences those moments of achievement. This first year of graduate study afforded me a handful of experiences that were sweetly memorable and fulfilling — fuel to remember why I continue to pursue my musical passion when hope is less than present: Beethoven’s Ninth with Simon Rattle, WWV concerts, seeing my best friends conduct their Master Singers Recitals, etc. Thursday evening was a night of blessing for me. I was able to see the fruit of hard work and long patience. I was excited to hear that our Christmas CD, recorded with Dr. James Whitbourn in May, is finally ready.

Dr. Whitbourn gave us the news earlier that day, and an excitement spread through the choir like fire. He originally told us there would be a ‘premiere’ playing of it at the end of our course, but I believe in regards for his own personal safety and sanity, he was “forced” to make the premiere Thursday evening. The excitement and anticipation was in the atmosphere all day!

Dr. Steve Pilkington gave a fantastic lecture on “The Path to Expressivity,” offering many nuggets for personal contemplation as we continue through our stay here. His talk truly set the mood for our listening party. There was hardly any space left in the small commons room where Dr. Whitbourn had set up the CD player, an old upright box-tower with large subwoofers and a facade reminiscent of radios from the 40s. It struck me that the scene before me seemed historically displaced: I was sure the same feeling of anticipation and tension was shared by families nearly a century ago as they gathered around their radios to listen to baseball games, or concerts, or news of war. Musicians covered the chairs and floor of the commons, and breathing was difficult until the first notes of the recording began to play.

What ensued next was an hour of near disbelief, for I couldn’t fathom that my small voice was one among the choir singing through the speakers. The balance, the tone color, the musicianship……all of the beauty I was hearing seemed to belong to something beyond my capabilities. For an hour, I was in a sonic oasis as I sat with 60 other souls in a small room. We had the privilege of both Dr. Pilkington’s and Dr. Whitbourn’s presence during this hour, the composers and arrangers of the dulcet tones we had worked so hard to internalize and reproduce in the magnificence of the Princeton University Chapel. The final track, to my delight, was of Professor Robinson playing a truly exquisite organ fantasia. The majesty and expressivity of his playing would truly be fit for welcoming the King-Child on such a joyous occasion as His birth.

I was given the opportunity to remember again the incredible power and blessing of my craft. I have heard it before said that we as artists do not choose music, but that music chooses us. I was incredibly humbled to sit with so many other beautiful people in a small college commons and realize the amazing heartfelt musical ability that surrounded me. I was moved by the complex circuitous paths of these souls whom music had chosen all meeting at this moment in this room to share in this experience of beauty together. The journey through this institute has been filled with sweat and patience, yet the richness of beauty experienced in moments of respite such as this remind me of the deeper human reasons for my musical passion.

— Colton



About choralmusicinstitute

Presented by Westminster Choir College of Rider University and Oxford University's St. Stephen's House, the one-week institute provides instruction to all levels of conductors.
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