The sounds of a rehearsal echo through the auditorium, filling the Playhouse with elegant Italian lyrics. The students’ voices overflow with determination and the desire for precision. The actors’ emotions reach every corner of the building, from the dressing rooms backstage, all the way downstairs. Soon, they will perform for audiences and the fruit of their hard work will reach listeners more impressively than ever before.
This improvement was made possible through last summer’s completion of renovations to the Playhouse on the Westminster campus. The stage is now much larger. There is also a new backstage area, lined by two new dressing rooms and a storage room. Performers can also head downstairs to a large area for costumes and changing. The newly redone hall has a maximum occupancy of 268 and is visibly bigger both inside and out.
However, this positive addition to the Westminster campus was met with some negativity over the summer. A number of alumni and students were upset that the Playhouse would not be named for Joseph Flummerfelt, who was Westminster’s artistic director and principal conductor from 1971 to 2004. A petition was created on change.org, and over 900 people signed in agreement.
“Dr. Flummerfelt is my beloved choral conducting teacher,” wrote Kwanli Tsang, who is based in Hong Kong. “He inspired so many people by his supreme teaching and performance.”
“When an individual contributes to the betterment of such a vast amount of young people,” wrote Asherah Capellaro of Roanoke, Virginia, “the excellence of an educational organization, and the musical community itself in the dedicated and passionate way in which Maestro Flummerfelt has, that individual deserves a grand and visible accolade.”
And put quite pointedly by Suzanne Chadwick of New York: “It would be beyond ridiculous to name it after anyone else besides Dr. Flummerfelt. Perhaps someone would have had to spent thousands of hours of rehearsals there with him to understand. He is and was Westminster.”
The discussion finally came to a close with a two-pronged decision: The building will still be named the Robert L. Annis Playhouse as planned, honoring the recently retired dean of Westminster College of the Arts, while the performance hall will be named after Flummerfelt.
This decision is a good compromise. Dean Annis may not have been a conductor, but he helped raise the money that went into the Playhouse renovations. He didn’t have to mold a gang of student voices into a choir, but his impact was felt throughout Westminster, and he will surely be missed.
And, of course, Flummerfelt left quite an indelible impression on Westminster. He stood as Musical America’s 2004 Conductor of the Year and has been involved with the New York Philharmonic since 1971. At Westminster for over 30 years, he worked very closely with students and inspired generations. According to an alumna, he communicated his deep love of choral literature and his unique, often inspired, interpretations to both the choirs he led and his conducting students. Sometimes abrupt (“Basses, you’re out of tune. Fix it!” he would command) he constantly challenged students to excel.
The new dean of Westminster, Matthew Shaftel, has earned much praise as well for hearing the suggestions of alumni and students and, instead of firmly sticking to a decision to honor just one man, finding a way to pay tribute to the two. He reached out and tried to understand. However, he didn’t give in to demands fueled by anger and unrest. He sought out a middle ground, a solution that would satisfy both sides and alleviate emotional tension.
Dean Shaftel also boosted a scholarship in Flummerfelt’s name, an aid to many students as they attend a prestigious school. Shaftel and the decision made regarding the Playhouse stand as models of how these types of situations can be handled. Oftentimes, corporations, administrations and individuals root themselves in their original positions, not willing to compromise or move. Humans sometimes are more willing to fight than to work together. All those involved in the naming of the Playhouse did a good job of averting a problem and pleasing both sides, and they should be commended for this.
The success of this compromise can be powerfully summed up by the final update, a single word, on the online petition page: “Victory!”
The weekly editorial expresses the majority opinion of The Rider News. This week’s editorial was written by the Opinion Editor, Samantha Sawh.
Printed in the 10/14/15 issue.