By Thomas Albano
A “perfect” solution to an emotional dialog involving the naming of the Robert L. Annis Playhouse on the Westminster campus has resulted in a new initiative in recognition of Dr. Joseph Flummerfelt.
The plan, entitled A Thousand Voices in Honor of Joseph Flummerfelt, was announced in an email to Westminster alumni on Oct. 5. With this initiative, the hall inside of the Playhouse will be named the Joseph Flummerfelt Performance Hall, and an endowed choral scholarship in his name will be established. One thousand supporters will be tasked with the goal of raising $100,000 for the scholarship. The fundraising effort will be in conjunction with a March 2016 performance of Mahler’s “Symphony No. 8,” nicknamed “Symphony of a Thousand,” by the Westminster Symphonic Choir with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Flummerfelt, who served as artistic director and principal conductor of Westminster Choir College for 33 years, was honored and grateful for the plan, which was partially brought to life by the newly hired dean of the Westminster College of the Arts, Matthew Shaftel.
“Helping young musicians along their Westminster journey means so much to me,” Flummerfelt said in a statement. “Recently, I had the opportunity to be inside the beautifully renovated Playhouse, and it is deeply touching that, going forward, the interior space will also bear my name.”
Flummerfelt was named Conductor of the Year by the prestigious periodical Musical America in 2004, and he is the founder and musical director of the New York Choral Artists. In addition, he has several Grammy Award nominations for Best Choral Performance in classical music.
The announcement of the Playhouse being named in honor of Annis, the former dean and director of Westminster College of the Arts who retired on Dec. 31, 2014, was made by former Rider President Mordechai Rozanski at last year’s Westminster convocation. This idea was not completely welcomed, however. A petition on the website change.org was started in order to get the university to name the building after Flummerfelt.
Created approximately four months ago, the petition had over 750 electronic signatures in less than a month. At the time of the initiative’s announcement, the petition had 939 supporters.
Shaftel was not a part of the university when the petition first went up — he was appointed this past July 1 — but when he heard about it, he jumped right into action.
“I contacted the person who put the petition online and said, ‘You know, I think we can take all this really great energy and make something out of it — a lasting honor for Joseph Flummerfelt, who is such a profound artist and such a profound gift to our college,’” Shaftel said. “And I was just really glad that we were able to do it; it just took a while to get all of the different pieces ironed out.
“The response has been overwhelming from our alumni. Some of our alumni have already pledged gifts, and I’m feeling pretty convinced we’re going to get to the number we need.”
While Shaftel wanted to make a plan for Flummerfelt, he understood the reasoning behind the Playhouse being named after Annis, whose tenure lasted 20 years.
“He took an institution that was basically about to go out of business and turned it around and built something totally new,” he said. “He then oversaw the fundraising for a new building and a completely renovated building on campus — the first two buildings on campus in like 30-40 years. It’s amazing what he did, and so it seems fitting.
“I assume, when [Annis] was raising money, [that] some of the donors said, ‘No, really, we want to give this money in your honor,’ to demonstrate the lasting legacy that he’s made. And so, I understand, and it makes perfect sense that there should be a structure on campus that is in his honor — that’s what the money was given for. Those were the structures that he allowed to happen.”
As a result, Shaftel — along with Annis and several alumni — developed a plan to honor Flummerfelt’s legacy and impact on Westminster. The first part was an endowed choral scholarship in his name. This effort piggybacks on an earlier fundraising effort in Flummerfelt’s honor, according to Shaftel.
“A scholarship was created when Joe Flummerfelt retired a couple of years ago,” Shaftel said. “When he retired, there was an opportunity for lots of alumni to give. For whatever reason, it wasn’t really successful the first time. So, when I saw the alumni getting excited about Flummerfelt, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to have Joe Flummerfelt’s dream come to fruition.”
According to Shaftel, all parties now seem to be pleased, including the two men who will be recognized for what they were able to bring to Westminster Choir College.
“I think what we really have is two great men that we have to honor — one for building structures that allowed these experiences to happen, and one who made these experiences happen. So, I love how we can have the outside structure named after Dean Annis, in recognition of the work that he did to fundraise for the space and to build those structures and make Westminster into a stable entity. On the other hand, really think about the lasting, artistic legacy that one encounters every time they step inside the building. Whenever you’re in the hall, you’re faced with this incredible, musical legacy [of Flummerfelt] that surely is dominating every nook and cranny inside the space.
“So, it just seems perfect to have the hall itself be named after Flummerfelt, and the structure be named after Bob Annis.”