A Short History of the PSMA

“Musical Amateurs” was started in 1935 by Professor Roy Dickinson Welch, Chairman of the Princeton University Music Department. Patterned after Henry Drinker’s Sunday night singing parties in Philadelphia, an informal group of about twenty musicians met in the living room of Mrs. MacKenty Bryan’s house on Sunday afternoons, to sing for their own pleasure works from the choral literature. Professor Welch conducted and had the assistance of a piano accompanist. The group gradually grew too large for a living room, and after World War II moved the meetings to the old Miss Fine’s School building (present site of Borough Hall), with Mrs. Bryan as its manager. She served a magnificent supper at intermission time.

The popularity and subsequent growth of the organization led to the use of the “new” gymnasium of the school, built around 1955, where there was enough room to house the membership at that time – 175 or so – and experiment with having an orchestra. Certain traditions evolved, such as singing either Handel’s Messiah or the Bach Christmas Oratorio in December. The sessions were generally conducted by J. Merrill Knapp or Elliot Forbes, both of the Princeton University Music Department, with an occasional guest conductor. Eventually Mrs. Bryan’s glorious suppers had to be reduced to “refreshments” because of rising food costs and the tremendous labor involved.

In 1963 Mrs. Bryan retired, the organization was incorporated, and a set of bylaws was written. Mrs. Grace Ramus took over and almost single-handedly guided and ran the Society for the next twenty years. In 1968 the Musical Amateurs moved to its present venue, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton. Over the years the repertoire has expanded to include 20th century works such as the Bernstein Chicester Psalms, and  a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta each February. Each session is conducted by one of the many prominent conductors from the Central New Jersey area who lend their talents to this remarkable organization.

Last updated 8/30/2010