PRINCETON: Westminster marathon tries to strike the right notes as a musical protest (With multiple photos)

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Only a handful of people sat in the pews of Nassau Presbyterian Church Tuesday afternoon when Westminster Choir College graduate student Gwen Cartwright got up to sing, one of an unbroken string of 30 to 35 performers planned through the day and night., Their talents were different, their performances professional quality and their sentiments united: they do not want to see Westminster, a part of Rider University, leave Princeton to go to Rider’s Lawrenceville campus and the Wesminster campus sold to help plug shortfalls in Rider’s finances., For 24 straight hours starting at 11 a.m., current Westminster students, faculty and alumni were scheduled to sing or do instrumentals at a music marathon seen as a “musical statement” against moving the school., “We’re not carrying signs, we’re not typical protestors,” said Mickey Lazenby Gast, a 1968 graduate of the school who coordinated the event. “We’re making a musical statement as our form of protest.”, The event was open to the public, with organizers saying the marathon was due to end at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Music styles ran the gamut, from jazz, folk and blues to arias and piano pieces., “So we want Princeton to know that this is something that we are passionate about,” said Westminster graduate student Kimberly Reinagel, who helped put the marathon together. “This is essentially us just demonstrating our solidarity with the school.”, Westminster alumna Jody Velloso, a 1997 graduate who is the music director of Trinity Presbyterian Church in East Brunswick, was the first singer to perform in the morning. After doing a few numbers, she said afterward she hopes the school is still in Princeton when her young daughter is ready to go to college., But ever since Rider President Gregory G. Dell’Omo floated the idea late last year of moving the school and selling the campus, a feeling of uncertainty has hung over Westminster like a storm cloud. Students, faculty and alumni are upset with what it sees as a lack of transparency, despite Mr. Dell’Omo having information forums on campus., “The biggest thing we’re feeling as a faculty is a distrust of all the information we’re getting,” said Tom Faracro, a teacher there for the past 34 years and an alumnus of the school, who stopped at the marathon., “They won’t give us much detail, we’ve been asking for details about what the plan would entail if they were going forward. And they keep saying it’s just a study,” Ms. Velloso said., “The mood overall is it’s sadness, it’s a little bit of anger and it’s fear that this will actually happen, because the students don’t want to lose their beautiful school and the faculty don’t want to lose their jobs and we don’t to lose departments and programs,” Ms. Reinagel said., Westminster has been in Princeton since 1932. Former Borough Marvin Reed, who attended the music marathon in the morning, sits on the advisory council of the school. He said the Princeton “campus shouldn’t be sacrificed in order to make up for what may be financial problems at Lawrenceville.”, “What’s different about Westminster from an ordinary college is that the emphasis in Westminster is on performance, that the students are not only learning their major field … but it’s based on performance,” Mr. Reed said. “And that requires a close-knit relationship with the audience that Princeton produces. And Princeton has the facilities for performance” on and off the Westminster campus., For its part, Rider on Tuesday issued a statement saying it had not made up its mind about whether to sell the campus and move Westminster., “(Tuesday’s) musical marathon showcases what’s best and most unique about Westminster Choir College. As we’ve said before, we respect and appreciate everything that students, alumni and others are doing,” Rider spokeswoman Kristine Brown said. “Please know that we are listening to you and have heard your concerns. We continue to ask the entire Rider community for their patience and understanding as the Board of Trustees works to make a fact-based decision in the coming months. It’s important to stress that no final decisions have been made. 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.”, But to Ms. Gast, the main Rider campus lacks the facilities that Westminster would need to run its programs, from classrooms and practice rooms to organs – “not to mention the atmosphere that is encapsulated, if you will, within our campus here in Princeton.”, “I’m very passionate about this cause that we are putting forward here and that is that Westminster Choir College cannot work well on the Lawrenceville campus,” she said., “We all want the best, we’re here for the best,” said Westminster senior Samantha Goldberg, “and I don’t know if we can continue that over at Lawrenceville.”

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