There is no question in my mind that the high point of my high school career was not the prom nor graduation itself but rather participating in the candlelight processional of the Princeton High School Choir (always with a capital C) at the end of the 1978 Winter Concert in the Princeton University Chapel. The Choir has carried on this venerable tradition for six decades, always culminating in Bach’s “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light” and Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” joined by alumni choir members, who come in droves. Clad in a somber blue choir robe, and tightly gripping my lit candle, I remember every step of that processional, the lights dimmed, the crowd hushed; I felt like I was floating. It was, quite frankly, much more exciting than walking down the aisle at my own wedding 16 years later, which took place in a tiny stone Bucks County church, where I enjoyed a mere 10 paces before reaching the altar. At the chapel, that processional seemed to go on forever.
The reverence for the venue and the extraordinary music we were privileged to sing there lives on in the memories of hundreds and hundreds of choir alumni, many of whom actually stopped singing in choirs after high school because the bar had been raised so high for them at such a young age and no choir could ever measure up.
Some, however, have continued to sing as adults, such as Rebecca Migliore, Class of 1981, a Presbyterian minister and member of the Princeton Singers, and Eric Swartzentruber, Class of 1979, director of development for the Academy of the Sacred Heart, who has been hailed by the Philadelphia Inquirer as a “velvet-voiced tenor,” and is a frequent guest soloist, having appeared on over a dozen recordings and with many of this country’s leading vocal ensembles, including Piffaro— the Renaissance Band, American Boychoir, Chanticleer, Schola Nova, Fuma Sacra, and the Schola Cantorum of Oxford. His wife, Johanna Swartzentruber, Class of 1980, is a member of St. Clement’s Choir in Philadelphia (as is Eric) and a former soloist with the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia. Bebe Neuwirth, Class of 1976, has won two Tonys singing on Broadway.
More than 200 alumni will travel from as far away as California to participate in the 60th anniversary concert of the Princeton High School Choir this weekend. The current high school Choir will perform Mozart’s “Requiem” on Friday, June 9, in the Princeton University Chapel. On Saturday, June 10, the alumni will perform Faure’s Requiem under the direction of Thomas Hilbish, PHS choir conductor from 1948 to 1965. It was Hilbish who raised the bar for a choir that would travel to Europe several times to perform in international festivals. He believed that young people were capable of singing the best and the most difficult choral music, including works usually thought to be well beyond the ability of high school students .
Some alum won’t have to travel so far. Several dozen still live and work in the area, including myself, Class of 1979, arts editor for this newspaper; Ezra Fischer, Class of 2000, who just finished two years as a production manager at U.S.1 and is about to embark on a cross-country drive; Francine (Swartzentruber) Storck, 1975, principal second violin of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra; Bill Lockwood, 1955, principal programming associate for New Jersey Performing Arts Center; Jim Floyd Jr., 1965, co-chair of Princeton Future; his daughter, Isobel Allen-Floyd, 1994, assistant to Wynton Marsalis; Sandra (Black) Duffy, 1957, realtor with Re/Max; Dale McClendon, 1976, who works for the department of community affairs, New Jersey State Division of Housing; Deborah Freedman, 1968, an independent Reiki therapist in Monmouth Junction; and Wendy Jolley, 1967, chair of the Princeton Alcohol and Drug Alliance.
Also, Beulah (Ellis) Baker, 1952, a former teacher and principal, who currently volunteers at TASK; Susan (Cowen) Coleman, 1980, a New Hope-based freelance interior designer, whose three older siblings — Dan, Robin, and, David, all choir alumni — are coming from California, St. Louis, and Knoxville, respectively, to the reunion; Blair Bugher, 1973, owner of Bugher Marine Services in Princeton Junction; Craig Landau, 1975, a self-employed massage therapist in Solebury, PA; Yina Moore, 1973, architectural and environmental consultant, Princeton Regional Planning Board member, and co-chair with Jim Floyd of Princeton Future (Moore is also helping raise funds to name other parts of the new PHS performing arts center after past teachers such as Nancianne Parella); and Marcia Wood, 1961, executive director of the Trenton Community Music School.
Do any of them sing anymore? “I don’t even sing in the shower,” says Yina Moore, whose daughter, Gisela, is a sophomore at PHS.
Princeton High School Choir 60th Reunion Concerts, Princeton University Chapel: Friday, June 9, 8 p.m., the current PHS choir performs Mozart’s Requiem; Saturday, June 10, 8 p.m., over 200 alumni perform Faure’s Requiem; Bach’s Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light, and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. 609-806-4280, extension 3792.