W. Barksdale Maynard ’88’s feature in the Jan. 16 issue (“Hitting the high notes”) brought back many wonderful memories of singing in the Chapel Choir. I remember being intimidated, hearing the choir conducted by Carl Weinrich my freshman year. Thank goodness I got up the nerve to audition at the beginning of my sophomore year, Walter Nollner’s first year as director.
The discipline required to attend frequent rehearsals and services was offset by the great reward of singing a large number of masterpieces. Nollner selected a challenging repertory, such as one Bach cantata per month, and I credit him with opening my ears to Renaissance music and introducing me to Schubert’s Mass in E-flat Major. He planned our trip to Europe, where we sang Mozart in Salzburg and Vienna, Josquin in St. Mark’s and Chartres, and Fauré in the Madeleine.
Two memories stand out. The first was particularly dramatic: During a service, a white dove, which had found its way into the Chapel, made a flight down the center of the nave toward the altar; we had been plunged straight into a Van Eyck painting. The second occurred during our final rehearsal for the Milbank Concert of Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ. Power had failed in the Chapel, and Nollner, aware that we needed to practice nevertheless, arranged to have the chancel illuminated by candles. We felt as if we had been transported back in time to the 18th century.
I’m grateful that Princeton made this whole experience possible for me, especially considering my musical inadequacies, and am pleased that current students still have this opportunity. It should prove to be one of their finest academic memories as well.