One of the most controversial topics at Westminster Choir College (WCC) over the past few years has been the notion of having a fall break. In the middle of the fall semester, students and faculty alike long for a little time off, even if it’s only a day (like it was in the fall of 2007) to rest, recuperate and prepare for the semester ahead.
For those of you who do not know, the typical Westminster student has a schedule unlike any other college student. Westminster students usually begin their school days around 9 in the morning, and often continuously take classes, with only half-hour breaks for lunch and dinner, until 9:30 in the evening. Some days of the week, such as Friday, may be shorter, but even if you are only in class for 12 hours three days a week, this really does take a toll on your physical, mental and emotional health.
Don’t forget that WCC students are also heavily involved in many other activities on top of their academic requirements. Keyboard majors are supposed to practice at least three hours daily, and vocal majors are supposed to practice at least an hour. Many students also have to find the time to be a part of student government, clubs, church, jobs, additional choral ensembles and many other obligations.
The proposed schedule also creates an ideal world in which WCC students would be able to have what we know as “runouts.” These events are when members of an ensemble have to go to Carnegie Hall, Kimmell Center, Avery Fisher Hall or wherever else to perform with some of the most gifted musicians living today. This is an enormous honor and something WCC students revel in having the opportunity to do. Sometimes, however, this can create enormous stress. In the past three weeks alone, the Westminster Symphonic Choir (the choir for juniors and seniors) has been off campus for numerous runouts, sometimes leaving at 8 in the morning, and returning to Princeton after midnight.
It is important to recall that until 2005, WCC had its own academic calendar independent of the rest of Rider University. WCC’s calendar related to its unique mission and allowed for weeks when just the choirs would rehearse, and would allow for breaks to be lined up with the years’ major performance schedule. It is not unusual for separate divisions of the same institution to have separate academic calendars. Many other music schools, such as the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, operate under a different academic calendar than their “parent institution,” which in Peabody’s case is Johns Hopkins University.
Unfortunately for our community, Rider University enacted a policy that strives to have all divisions operating under the same calendar. This may be an administrative advantage, but does a huge disservice to the student and teaching bodies across both campuses.
Ironically enough, the interesting thing about Johns Hopkins and Peabody is that they both have a fall break. Johns Hopkins typically allows one day off for their fall break, while Peabody, in the fall of 2008, decided two days of rest were necessary. Having a fall break in a college or university is not unheard of. Nearby Princeton University gives students and faculty an entire week to go home, visit loved ones, rest, relax or prepare for the duration of the semester.
I will admit that I know very little about academic life in Lawrenceville, but to me, the idea of having a fall break seems like it would be one every Rider student would enjoy, not just members of WCC. The opportunity to take some time off — even if it is only a day — will prevent students from feeling overworked, exhausted or unwilling to participate in their academic future. I am not saying that WCC or Lawrenceville students are lazy or unwilling to do work, but what I am saying is if many of our colleagues at respected schools nationwide take this necessary time, we should too.
Anthony Baron is a sophomore at Westminster Choir College with a major in music theory.