It’s funny how some houses have good party energy. Some are just made that way; others become that way thanks to their owners’ vision and attention to detail. Stony Brook Farm is that kind of house. A little over 100 patrons of Westminster’s beloved and perennially sold-out An Evening of Readings and Carols concerts were invited this year to cocktails and dinner at Stony Brook Farm in Princeton on Saturday, December 13, to be followed by a post-concert dessert reception back at the house.
This was the kind of party where, as you’re driving up the driveway — in this case a long, curved, can’t-wait-to-see-what’s-around-the-bend driveway — and you look inside the windows, you know this is a party for those who must see and be seen. Golden light spills out of the tall front windows, dressed to the nines with wreaths and garlands, and lots of well-dressed people are scurrying around inside. As you get closer you hear music and laughter. You check your lipstick in the rearview, hand your key to the valet, slip off your gloves, and ascend the imposing front stairs.
You are greeted at the door by the beautiful Betsey Wislar, a member of the event planning committee (how can this not be a great party?), your coat is magically whisked away by invisible coat check girls, and Ed Gwazda, assistant vice president of development at Rider University, graciously takes your elbow and introduces you to every important person in the room including Mordecai Rozanski, president of Rider University; Bob Annis, dean and director of the newly-created Westminster College of the Arts; and then the hosts, the owners of this magnificent home, Bruce DiDonato and Denise Agness, both opticians and founders of the Campus Eye Group in Hamilton Square.
This party had every “t” crossed and “i” dotted. A warm welcome, plenty of food, an open bar, and lots of interesting people to talk to. Right before dinner was served, Bob Annis gathered the guests in the gracious two-story foyer. After pointing out that none of the Federal bailout funds were earmarked for Westminster students (chuckles all around), he spoke about Westminster’s programs that enhance the artistic and cultural life of the community. He cited particularly Westminster Conservatory, which has more than 3,000 people taking lessons, classes, or participating in ensembles; Westminster Academy, through which Westminster provides a general music course for sixth graders in the Princeton public school system; the Campanella Scholarship, providing free music instruction to children from economically disadvantaged families in the Princeton community; and the free concerts provided by Westminster Choir College and its Conservatory.
He also announced the establishment of the Dean’s Circle patron program, created in response to the desire expressed by many Westminster supporters to be more involved with the students. Members of the Dean’s Circle will have opportunities to be more intimately involved in the artistic preparation and education of Westminster’s students, and will have priority access to performance events. As if on cue, a couple of latecomers came in through the front door behind Annis, who without skipping a beat greeted them with a big smile and “We’ve been waiting for you!”
Then it was on to dinner — thanks to color-coded seating cards, a brilliant idea, guests were whisked through the lavish buffet with marching-order precision, then seated at elegantly-set tables — some large, some small — throughout all of the graciously-appointed downstairs rooms,. The plan produced the charming result of 20 different dinner parties going on at once. Outside a number of luxury motor coaches waited to whisk guests away at 7:20 sharp to the concert at Princeton University Chapel, which, as everyone knows, is one of the highlights of the Christmas season in Princeton, performed by several of Westminster’s choirs with organ and brass accompaniment, including readings that reflect the diversity of the greater Princeton community.
I don’t envy the event planning committee, which will be hard-pressed to top this party next year, but will no doubt have a blast trying.
— Jamie Saxon
To learn more about Westminster, visit www.rider.edu/arts.