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In Their Own Words
Bruce Neswick (M.M. ’81)
I am currently associate professor of organ at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. I love working with some of the finest young organists in the country and being allowed to focus with them on the full range of activities normally encountered by a church musician: hymn-playing; anthem accompanying; choir leading and organization; church music repertoire; etc. -- and all within the context of a vibrant and growing conservatory-like school of music.
My career after Yale began with a two-year stint in New York City, serving first as Larry King's first Apprentice in Church Music at Trinity, Wall Street, and then as David Hurd's sabbatical leave replacement at General Theological Seminary. I then spent eight very happy and insanely busy years at St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo, where my lifelong passion for working with children in choirs was firmly cemented. I felt the need after that time to refuel and took myself to Geneva, Switzerland, for two years, when I studied with Lionel Rogg and ran the music at the English Church. From there, I took positions at Christ Church Cathedral, Lexington, KY; Washington Cathedral; St. Philip's Cathedral, Atlanta; and at Saint the John the Divine, NYC. In all these places, I have been grateful to form lifelong friendships and to work intensively with chorister programs and in the context of some amazing churches and cities.
Of all the things I have done, I am probably most satisfied by my work with children's choirs, based as it has been in the tradition of the RSCM and its exciting work here in this country. There is nothing more demanding yet exhilarating than training a young person in the love and performance of quality church music; to see students forming vocations, avocations, and friendships around that activity; and to maintain with them an active network of friendships. Playing for former choristers' weddings makes me feel my age, but is also deeply satisfying!
The ISM was, for me, a wonderful smorgasbord of opportunities: working with great teachers, including Gerre Hancock, Robert Baker, Jon Bailey, and Jeffery Rowthorn; playing and directing at Marquand Chapel; running the music at the conveniently-located and lively First Presbyterian Church; forming friendships within and without the organ class. Simply being at Yale was a supremely powerful influence! I treasure the abiding friendships with faculty and fellow students made during my time at the ISM. I am grateful for what the ISM represents, and what it offers to the world of church music: the pursuit of artistic excellence in the name of a higher cause.
Awet Andemicael (M.A.R. '10)
I am currently working on a Ph.D. in theology at Yale. I am thankful for the opportunity to study under a stellar academic advisor and mentor, Kathryn Tanner, as well as to work with network of theological mentors, both at the ISM and elsewhere. Alongside my academic work, I am slowly getting back into singing professionally, which was what I did for a living before coming to the ISM. Since music and theological aesthetics are among the central concerns of my theological work, being active as a musical performer–to the extent that time and energy permit–will likely enrich my scholarly investigations.
It has been a busy two years since I left the ISM! After graduating, I worked on a research project surveying artistic activity in international refugee camps; my research was eventually published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). I spent the following year studying theology and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame. It was a deeply formative experience to be immersed in a environment in which prayer and study are equally valued. I had the opportunity to study with wonderful theologians, including Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, Matthew Ashley, Cyril O’Regan, Francesca Murphy, and Mary Catherine Hilkert, as well as scholars in the field of peace studies. Although I was not able to study with Margot Fassler, I benefitted from her mentorship, and was invited by Margot and Peter Jeffery to serve on the Mellon Working Group on Music and Religion.
I have traveled quite a bit in the last year or so. I went to Japan to sing Messiah with Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan, which was an amazing experience. Later, while at Notre Dame, I took part in a study/service course called the Common Good Initiative, in which I engaged in interdisciplinary reflection on issues of poverty and injustice, in preparation for a week of participating in the prayer and work life of the Missionaries of the Poor in Kingston, Jamaica. The theology department also sent several theology students, along with colleagues in Jewish rabbinical schools, on a trip to Israel to learn about Christian-Jewish dialogue. It was a challenging and incredibly rewarding experience, and further confirmed my commitment to interfaith and ecumenical engagement. That summer, I went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and taught two courses at the
Université Chrétienne Bilingue du Congo (Christian Bilingual University of Congo) in Beni, Nord-Kivu: one on theologies of reconciliation, and one on music and worship in the churches. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, and I was deeply blessed by my colleagues and students there. What a delight to be serving on my own continent! I hope to return again someday.
Other special undertakings in the last year or so include helping moderate an international interfaith conference in Oxford, England; taking part in a global peace symposium in Reykjavik, Iceland; serving on an AAR panel as part of the Mellon Working Group on Music and Religion; participating as a musical performer and theologian at a Center for Theological Inquiry conference on science and religion; and being invited to serve as a theological consultant to a UNHCR conference in Geneva on faith and refugee protection. This summer, I will be presenting a paper on religion and peace studies in Salzburg, Austria.
As a result of all of these opportunities, I am finding myself drawn toward a way of doing theology that is in spiritual and tangible service to God with and through the enactment of social justice, healing, and sustainable peace. This year, I will continue as a member of the think tank of the Elijah Interfaith Institute; though I expect to be attending fewer theological conferences, I will be doing more singing engagements.
Most recently, I have had the honor of presenting papers at my home institution (Yale) in my “home” discipline (music and systematic theology) at the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music and in the ISM Consultation on Music and Theology. That experience has served to confirm my call to constructive theology in music, and to generate great home-coming joy upon my return to the ISM community.
Of all my experiences, teaching in the Congo, along with all that I learned there from my colleagues and students, has given me the most profound satisfaction.
I can safely say that what I am doing today would have been almost impossible without the ISM. Before that, I had no academic background in theology – in fact, I don’t think I had even heard of systematic theology, let alone have any idea how my background as a musician and my burning spiritual questions could be brought into fruitful conversation with others who shared similar concerns and interests. The ISM’s financial support made it possible for me to discover and study theology at Yale; and the personal encouragement and validation I received from Martin Jean, the faculty and friends of the ISM, and my colleagues, first helped me discern my scholarly calling to theology and music, and then gave me the courage to pursue it.
I am deeply grateful to God for having granted me the chance to study at the ISM. The experience was a major turning point for me, and, though I have studied at several institutions, I continue to think of the ISM as the alma mater of my heart.
Tawnie Olson (A.D., composition, '00)
The music of Canadian composer Tawnie Olson (Artist Diploma, composition,’00)has been performed by a wide range of ensembles and individual musicians, including the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, the Gemini Duo, Duo Fiolûtröniq, the Wanmu Percussion Trio, the McGill Percussion Ensemble, the Land’s End Ensemble, the Canadian Chamber Choir, the Guelph Chamber Choir, the Yale Camerata and the Chamber Chorus of the Yale Camerata, bassoonists Nadina Mackie Jackson and Rachael Elliott, and harpsichordist Katelyn Clark. She has won awards from the SOCAN foundation and the Guelph Chamber Choir/Musica Viva, and is a two-time semifinalist in the Sorel Foundation competition.
Her piece Scel lem duib was premiered at the annual Advent concert of the Yale Camerata on December 1. It was commissioned for the Yale Camerata by the Yale Institute of Sacred Music from the Robert Baker Commissioning Fund for Sacred Music and dedicated to Marguerite Brooks and the Chamber Chorus of the Yale Camerata, with special thanks to Kristan Toczko.
In her note, Olson says:
“A medieval Irish monk once wrote: ‘It is senseless for anyone to cease in the praise of God. The birds, they never cease, and their souls are only air.’ As I wrote Scel lem duib, I felt overwhelmed by the beauty of creation, the way plants and animals are always growing and changing, driven to take root, to migrate, to bear fruit by a force much deeper than consciousness. I love the poem “Scel lem duib” because its elegant spareness celebrates winter as a thing-in-itself, as yet another instance of nature’s awful beauty. Unlike many other poems, it does not use the turning seasons as a metaphor for aging and death. As I set the text that is translated “the bracken reddens/its shape becomes hidden,” however, I found myself thinking that all of the beauty of this world is an echo of another country, one where some whom I love are hidden, and where I hope by God’s grace someday to dwell. But before I could become too lost in this thought, a flock of geese intruded, raucously calling out God’s praises in the here-and-now."
In response to our alumni mailing after the Robert Baker celebration
in 2005, we heard from many of our alumni. Click
Here for a sampling of notes from all over.