Saturday, January 16, 2010


"I am a graduate of Westminster Choir College in Princeton NJ."

I say that to people who ask me where I went to college with fierce pride, the sense of which is founded in a special community of people who have gone before and come after. The long red line... each of whom has heard the sound.

The first time I trod upon the bricks of the Quad, I heard it. It is that sussurrus of music which pervades the campus. It comes from the practise rooms, the classrooms, and the Playhouse. It comes from the Chapel in the wee hours of the morning. Little did I know then, that it would color my life almost continuously for four very short years. Little did I know that the memory of it would always be in the corner of my mind, coloring my entire life even to this day.

Westminster is not just a place; it is a state of mind. It is song and more song. You cant sing in a choir with other people every day for four years withut a special bond forming. That bond is exemplified in the tradition of singing the Peter Lutkin "Benediction" at the conclusion of Choir College events and concerts.

It has been said that when Greek meets Greek, they open a restaurant. Well, whenever WCC alum meets WCC alum, they sing the Lutkin. Or as the late Lee Hastings Bristol remarked, "The Lutkin is the closest thing the Choir College will ever have to a 'fight song'..."

It is arguably not the greatest piece of music in the world, and to others it may even seem a bit mawkish; but to a Choir College person it is very special. You learn it as a Freshman at the first meeting of the Chapel Choir. You sing it at every possible occasion during your time at the College. You teach it to the choirs of your student church. And finally, in the great fane of the Princeton University Chapel, after your friends have asked "Whom shall we send?" and you have answered "Here am I, Lord, send me", it is sung lovingly to you - a final Benediction until you meet again.

From time to time over the forty-plus years since that day in the "U Chapel" when the Lutkin was sung to me and the members of my graduating class, I have myself felt drawn to that magical few acres of ground we call the Choir College. When I heed that call, without fail I come away refreshed and hopeful, renewed in spirit. Yet I know that the time is coming - not too soon, I hope - when I will not be able to make that pilgrimage except in my mind.

The late General Douglas McArthur spoke of such a time to the assembled students of West Point, his beloved Alma Mater, and with a few emendations I quote:

"The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished - tone and tints. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen then, but with thirsty ear, for the witching melody of faint anthems, of far voices united in song.

"In my dreams I hear again the crash of the Missa Solemnis, the rattle of Carmina Burana, the strange, mournful mutter of the Brahms Requiem. But in the evening of my memory I come back to Princeton. Always there echoes and re-echoes: 'The Lord bless you and keep you...'

"Someday I will sing that final Benediction with you. But I want you to know that when I cross the bar, my last conscious thoughts will be of the Choir, and the Choir, and the Choir.