History of the Voorhees Choir

Women in Song since 1927


In the beginning, there was a woman of vision-- Mabel Smith Douglass. Through her efforts with the New Jersey Federation of Women's Clubs, the New Jersey College for Women (NJC, for short) opened its doors in September 1918.

 

As the college grew, Dean Douglass began to dream of a college chapel. She had been corresponding with Mrs. Elizabeth Rodman Voorhees, an area philanthropist, and, upon explaining the college's need, secured Mrs. Voorhees' support for the funding of the chapel.

 

Upon her death, Mrs. Voorhees bequeathed the sum of $1.6 million for the construction and maintenance of a chapel"that should contain an organ." The resulting structure was the Elizabeth Rodman Voorhees Memorial Chapel, which was completed in September 1926.

 

Music had always been a part of the traditions of NJC, beginning with the Glee Club and the Weepies. Before the establishment of a separate Department of Music, the NJC Choir would join with the Rutgers College Glee Club, then under the direction of Howard D. McKinney, for a joint Christmas Concert. This tradition continued until 1924 when John Earle Newton became a fulltime professor of Music at NJC. The NJC Choir was also privileged enough to join Rutgers College Glee Club as the University Choir under the direction of F. Austin "Soup" Walter.

 

In 1927, the College Chapel Choir was founded under the direction of John Earle Newton, professor of music and the chapel's organist. The College Choir performed at daily assemblies, Sunday services, college events such as the Christmas Festival and Sacred Path Ceremony, as well as evening concert recitals.

 

Direction of the choir changed hands from Dr. Newton to Arnold Kunrad Kvam (1960s-'70s), the chairman of the now-established, nationally recognized Department of Music at the university. In the 1970s, Barbara Linglebach assumed directorship of the Voorhees Choir, taking the group to Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall in New York City.

 

By 1986, when the directorial baton was passed to Frances Fowler Slade, the Voorhees Choir was serving in its official capacity as the College Choir as well as giving two annual concerts. Slade's-12 year stint as director included international tours to France (May 1995) and Ireland (June 1996), an invitational "Festival of Female Voices" for high school women's choruses around New Jersey, and active membership in CIWGCA (Intercollegiate Women's Glee Club Association), which has earned the choir seven gold-medal ratings. In 1995, Voorhees Choir became the first choir at Rutgers University to produce a CD. From 1998 to the spring of 2013, Barbara Retzko led the choir.

 

Currently under the direction of Dr. Brandon Williams, Voorhees Choir maintains a membership of 70 voices, representing all women of the university. Our aims and goals have not changed since our inception, and we still proudly pursue musical excellence in concert and competition, represent Douglass College to the university and serve as the official College Choir at Douglass College events, such as the First-Year Convocation, Yule Log, and Sacred Path.

 

History compiled by Elizabeth T. Reiner, Historian/Alumnae Chair, 1998-'99 Academic Year

 

Special thanks to:

The very knowledgeable, helpful, friendly, patient staff at Special Collections and University Archives
   

Archibald Stevens Alexander Library, College Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ
   

The very knowledgeable, helpful, friendly, patient people at Campus Information Services
542 George Street, New Brunswick, NJ
   

The Rutgers University Glee Club
    

The Daily Targum
   

Terri Laird, DC '83, Choir Alumna
 

Jeanne M. Zanca, DC '99

 

Without whose initial time and effort this present document would not have grown.

 

Other Sources:

Schmidt, George P. Douglass College: A History c.1968, Rutgers University Press New Brunswick, NJ.
 

The Early History of The New Jersey College for Women Personal Recollections by Dean Douglass Reprinted from the Quair 1929.
 

Dedication Programme: The Elizabeth Rodman Voorhees Chapel September, 1926.

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