Welcome, New Students!

November 10, 2015

Compiled by Kathryn McNeal.

Each autumn we welcome new students who bring a breadth and depth of diverse backgrounds to our interdisciplinary enterprise. Many of them accepted our invitation to tell a bit about themselves sot that our alumni and friends can catch some of the enthusiasm that abounds at this time of year.

As usual, the ISM community celebrated the opening of the academic year at the ISM picnic at the Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden.

(Scroll down to see slideshow.)

Emma Langham Brown (M.A.R.) is a first year M.A.R. student concentrating in religion and the visual arts and material culture. She graduated from Harvard University in 2014 with a degree in history and literature and a secondary field in French literature. Her interests include paleography, the medieval book, and conceptions of piety and power in the Middle Ages. She is originally from Macon, Georgia.

Molly Channon (M.A.R.), originally from New Hampshire, gained an early appreciation for the visual arts while living abroad in England and France. She received her B.A. in art history and philosophy (‘14) from Brandeis University, focusing on modern art in Europe and the United States. In addition to her studies, Molly has worked on curatorial and education initiatives at several New England art museums, including the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, NH, the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, and most recently Harvard Art Museums. She looks forward to exploring the intersections of modern and contemporary art and religion.

Evan Cogswell (M.M.) is a first year organ student, studying with Martin Jean. In 2014, Evan graduated summa cum laude from the Hartt School with a dual degree in composition and organ performance. Currently, Evan is the assistant organist at St. Augustine’s and St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Churches in Glastonbury, CT. As a composer, Evan has written several works for organ that he has performed on several occasions, the most recent being a choral setting of “Puer Natus” with organ and flute accompaniment.

Brendan Dempsey (M.A.R.) plans to study religious reconstruction. Having graduated summa cum laude in 2011 from the University of Vermont with a degree in classics and religion, he spent the next four years writing his first work in this undertaking: a 500-page epic poem in blank verse called “God.” The poem narrates the modern death of God and prophesies/enacts God’s subsequent rebirth in our own time. At Yale, the second (and much longer) phase of Brendan’s project now begins, as he sets about articulating a completely reimagined mythic system in a projected 2000-page work entitled “Scriptures.’ To prepare for this he will continue studying philosophy, theology, ecology, music, mysticism, literature, writing, and other subjects. The completed work, he hopes, “will offer an efficacious spiritual framework to a world as self-destructive as it is desirous of a Sacred now but half-remembered.”

Jacob E. Drake (S.T.M.) completed his B.A. at Belmont University and his M.Div. at Duke Divinity School. He is particularly interested in Greek Patristic theology, culture, and liturgy. He plans to complete a doctorate in early Christianity in the coming years to prepare for a career teaching others the joys of studying the early church. In addition to his studies, he has served in five Baptist churches and several nonprofit organizations. Recently, he pastored a group of intellectually disabled persons in Durham, NC. The experience reshaped the way he thought of ministry and theology— examining how theology impacts all people within a congregation. He hopes to mine the resources of the early centuries to serve and critique contemporary churches toward greater faithfulness. Jacob is a baptistic thinker with strong leanings to the wider historical Church. He is married to Emily, a musician, arts administrator, and instructor. He and Emily live in Branford with their puppy, Pepper.

Joey Fala (M.M.), a native of Honolulu, is a 2015 graduate of the School of Architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. He has spent time working in the architectural lighting industry as well as in the graphic design and photography fields. He comes to the ISM after the somewhat recent realization that the organ is something he’d like to make more than just a hobby in his life.

Zachary Fletcher (M.A.R.) was born at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and baptized downtown at Christ Church.  After five years at St. Thomas Choir School in New York, he attended high school in Middletown, CT (where his family resides now), followed by four years at Harvard College where he sang a lot, and also studied Classics and Linguistics.  His senior thesis focused on queer sex, failure and social mobility in Petronius’ infamous Satyricon, the earliest extant example of Latin prose fiction.  Zak’s first academic exploration of liturgical studies, his current concentration, was in his junior year at Harvard, in a paper on the gold funerary tablets attributed to the ancient Mediterranean mystery cult of Orpheus.  Zak wants to learn how liturgical practices inform and create denominational (and intra-denominational) identity, especially in his own Anglican tradition; he is affiliated with Berkeley Divinity School.  He says, “I can’t wait to sing more at Yale!”

Victor Gan (M.A.R.), brought up as an Anglican in Singapore, spent his college years in London, where he shaped his interest in liturgy and early music.  Alongside medical school and graduate work in the gene therapy of immunodeficiencies, he had first-hand exposure to the labyrinthine sociology of academic biomedicine, intellectual engagement with the philosophical aesthetics community, parochial involvement in Anglo-Catholic liturgy, and the diverse choral music scene in London. Subsequent professional work in Singapore ranged centripetally from clinical infectious diseases to hospital epidemiology to national health promotion policy, which has led to an interest in exploring the liminality between ethics and liturgical performativity.  Victor’s interests include interfaith dialogue, Franco-Flemish polyphony, and reading culinary ethnography.

Dustin Gavin (M.A.R.), a native of Mobile, Alabama, is a New York City-based digital media artist who has spent the past few years focusing on experimental sound and video works that explore the duplicities of the body, gender, race, and identity. He holds a B.A. in Journalism from Howard University, an M.A. in Media Studies and Film from The New School, and will investigate the roles of race and gender in American religious history through the lens of the visual arts in the Institute of Sacred Music. In exploring this synthesis, Dustin intends to further inform notions of the black queer religious experience in America by creating digital works which provoke social commentary that complicate the effects and affects of that lived experience. Preoccupied with storytelling, Dustin believes that media has a responsibility to tell compelling stories, foster education, and provide insight to the world around us.

Michael Gilbertson (D.M.A.) is a composer from Dubuque, Iowa. He studied at The Juilliard School and Columbia University. After completing an M.M. at the Yale School of Music, he taught hearing and analysis as a lecturer at the YSM, and composition/theory at ECA, an arts magnet high school in New Haven. He has composed numerous choral and vocal works, frequently collaborating with poet and ISM graduate Kai Hoffman-Krull (M.A.R. ’12). A lifelong Lutheran, Michael is music director at Holy Cross Lutheran in Trumbull, CT. He also serves as artistic director of ChamberFest Dubuque, an annual summer music festival he founded in 2009.

Adele M. Grabowski (M.M.) is a first-year mezzo soprano in the Voxtet at Yale. She recently received her Bachelors in Fine Arts in vocal performance from Carnegie Mellon University. Adele is active in performing sacred and secular music, performing in both the United States and Europe. Her secondary interests include piano, dance, culinary arts, and religious studies.

Natasha Huang (M.A.R.) comes to the ISM for her final year at Yale Divinity School where, as an M.A.R. Comprehensive student, she seeks interdisciplinary study of how the arts intersect with the sacred and affect people’s lives.  Born and raised in Southern California, Natasha attended the University of Southern California, where she double majored in music (violin) and East Asian languages and cultures (she is fluent in Mandarin) and subsequently obtained a master’s degree in the latter. She is also a board-certified music therapist with particular interest in hospice work.  Natasha came to Yale after working for five years and hopes to pursue chaplaincy and further graduate study upon finishing.  In her spare time, she plays soccer for the Yale Divinity School Paracleats, dances at Yale Swing & Blues, and enjoys going on solitary neighborhood walks.

Tara (Negar) Jamali (M.Div.) graduated from the University at Buffalo with a B.A. in communication and Italian in 2013. She has participated in a theater festival in Italy, in which she played a lead role in a play by one of Italy’s most popular dramatists, Eduardo De Filippo. She has been involved in campus ministries such as Intervarsity USA, and sang in a Presbyterian church choir for over two years. She is Iranian-American, fluent in English and Farsi as well as Italian.

Weston Jennings (M.M.), originally from Stafford, VA, began his organ studies at the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp in 2007 and received his Bachelor of Music in organ performance from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. Following graduation, he lived in England for two years as the Organ Scholar of Canterbury Cathedral and Chelmsford Cathedral. During this time, he was also appointed Organ Scholar to the Royal Festival Hall in London. Weston joins the ISM this year as a student of Prof. Thomas Murray, whom he also assists at Christ Church. His other interests include running, cycling, traveling and cooking, as well as watching East German cinema.

Karl Isaac Johnson (M.A.R.) graduated summa cum laude from Samford University in May 2015. As an M.A.R. candidate in liturgical studies, he is interested in the history, development, and meaning of liturgical and lay rites in the Roman Catholic Church. As a church organist and musical composer, Isaac is also invested in the creation, use, and history of Catholic music and hopes to work on constructive approaches to Catholic music and liturgy in the midst of extreme division within the Church after the Second Vatican Council. Isaac is also interested in the history of religion in the American southwest, especially the intersection of Catholic missions and Native American traditions, and hopes to create and discover rituals and life habits for himself and others that heighten religious meaning and environmental sustainability in the midst of a techno-centric, disoriented modern world. He is excited to join the ISM and to become involved in the Yale Group for the Study of Native America and in liturgies at St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel.

Christopher Keady (M.M.), a native of Oregon, grew up in Eugene and most recently lived in Portland. He studied organ performance, English literature, and poetry writing at Lewis & Clark College, graduating in 2010, and subsequently worked as an organist in the Portland area. Most recently he was organ scholar at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, and this year will serve as the sacred music intern at the Brick Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Christopher is excited to avail himself of the broad course offerings at the ISM (especially literature), enjoy Yale’s incredible organs, and get to know the Northeast with his husband Dan. Outside of school and work he enjoys bicycling, cooking, and eating out.

Kristian C. Kohler (M.Div.) is from Reading, PA. He received a B.M. in music education and sacred music, summa cum laude, from Westminster Choir College of Rider University. While at Westminster, he served as the associate minister of music at St. Paul Lutheran Church in East Windsor, NJ. As a candidate for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Kristian plans to use his studies at the ISM to continue to integrate his passion for music and worship into his pastoral development. He will serve as the liturgical coordinator for the University Church in Yale during the 2015-2016 academic year.

Michael Kurth (M.Div.), originally from the Midwest, has spent the last four years in New York City. Along with the ISM, he will be studying at Yale Divinity School and Berkeley Divinity School for preparation for ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church.  Michael has always been involved with church choirs, and hopes the ISM will further develop his lifelong passion for sacred music and budding interest in liturgical studies.  Outside of school, he enjoys spending time with people – whether traveling, trying new food, watching sports, or going to the ballet.

Megan McDermott (M.Div.) graduated with a degree in creative writing and religious studies from Susquehanna University in 2014, where her interests often overlapped. Megan found herself writing poetry that touched on faith, feminism, and life as a Christian woman. With the encouragement of the ISM, she looks forward to thinking more about how her theological studies and reflections can manifest in creative expression. Megan also hopes to learn more about feminist liturgy. Particularly, she’s interested in the gendered language for God in worship and questions on how to balance liturgical innovation with historically rooted common prayer.  Her ultimate goal for her time at Yale Divinity School is to prepare to be a campus minister or university chaplain. She is also a student at Berkeley Divinity School, in Anglican Studies.

Daniel McGrew (M.M.) is a native of Orange, California where he began his performance career as a boy soprano singing in choirs, appearing as a soloist, performing in operas, and recording for film and television. In high school he received his first training as a tenor with Patrick Goeser of Chapman University. In 2010, Daniel earned first prize in the Classical Singer Competition; he was honored as a 2011 Presidential Scholar in the Arts. He is a recent graduate of Oberlin Conservatory of Music where he studied with Salvatore Champagne. His interest in early music is born of two winters at Emmanuel Music’s Bach Institute. Daniel is also passionately engaged with the art-song repertoire and the art of recital singing.

Jane Meditz (M.A.R.) is a native of Connecticut whose father graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1986. Her years as a girl chorister in an Episcopal parish laid the foundation for her future in sacred music. Her subsequent years in the Evangelical movement and as a sacred music major at Westminster Choir College continued to expose her to a wide variety of music from the Christian tradition. Her passions include composing sacred choral works and more contemporary songs and hymns, singing in early music ensembles, and participating in the music ministry of a local congregation.  While at YDS and the ISM, she hopes to learn more about how others have experienced Christianity through music in the past, and to continue to contribute to this legacy through composing and performing.

Mary Pan (M.M.) is a recent graduate of The Hartt School, University of Hartford, where she studied organ with Patricia Snyder and Renée Anne Louprette. A Connecticut native and a long-time piano student of Margreet Francis at the Hartt Community Division, she took up organ at age sixteen after “discovering” the instrument during a family trip to Shanghai, China. She has been organist and pianist at First Baptist Church, West Hartford, for the past three years, and is currently organ scholar at Trinity Episcopal Church, Hartford. She is interested in pursuing organ performance in both worship and concert, as well as exploring the many other facets of sacred music during her time at the ISM.

Nathan Reiff (D.M.A.) comes to Yale from New York, where he worked for two years as a conductor with the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, a children’s chorus serving about 1,500 students from across the greater New York City area. Prior to that, he received an M.M. in choral conducting from the University of Michigan. Originally hailing from Oregon, Nathan did his undergraduate degree at Yale several years ago. He says, “I’m thrilled to be back!”

Jonathan Sanchez (M.Div.), from Columbia, South Carolina, is a first-year M.Div. student seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He recently graduated from St. Olaf College, in Northfield, MN, where he majored in bass clarinet performance. He also enjoys playing Renaissance recorder. In addition to being able to study liturgy at the ISM, Jonathan is looking forward to furthering his study of Biblical languages. On a personal note: “Fried chicken is myfavorite food, and I love making puns!”

David A. Simon (M.M.) was born in Toronto and first studied music at St. Michael’s Cathedral Choir School. His interests in sacred choral and organ music have led him to study at Yale where he is working towards the M.M. degree in organ with the church music studies certificate.

Janet Yieh (M.M.), a native of Alexandria, Virginia, is a graduate of The Juilliard School (B.M. Organ ’15) and former assistant organist of Trinity Wall Street in New York. Memorable recent performances for her include a Pipedreams national radio broadcast from Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall with NOVUS NY orchestra, and solo recitals at St. Thomas Church, Fifth Ave, Washington National Cathedral, and St. John’s Cathedral in Taipei. She has appeared as harpsichordist with the Trinity Baroque Orchestra and premiered new music for the organ. With Presbyterian and Anglican roots, Janet particularly loves church music and working with choirs and currently serves as organ scholar at Trinity Church on the Green. Janet looks forward to the many collaborative learning opportunities at the ISM and hopes to explore the role of sacred music in liturgy and worship from new perspectives.

Xiao Situ (M.A.R.) comes from Brooklyn, New York. She did her Ph.D. studies in art history at Yale, focusing on nineteenth-century American and British art and material culture from a feminist and literary perspective. She wrote her dissertation on the poet Emily Dickinson, focusing on Dickinson’s relationship to the visual and material properties of windows from the 1830s to 1880s. Xiao served as a student deacon at the University Church in Yale while she was working on  her Ph.D.  She hopes to combine her art history training with pastoral care and theology in her future career. She enjoys reading, cooking, classical ballet, and is a fan of period detective novels and TV shows. is also an amateur historian of perfume and fragrance.

  • Aaron Peisner (l), Patrick Murray (r), and guests
    Aaron Peisner (l), Patrick Murray (r), and guests
  • Kristian Kohler, Jane Meditz, Jonathan White, Thomas Williford, Mary Copeley
    Kristian Kohler, Jane Meditz, Jonathan White, Thomas Williford, Mary Copeley
  • Sakina Abdus Shakur, Bethany Carlson, Joey Fala, Weston Jennings, and Jonathan Sanchez
    Sakina Abdus Shakur, Bethany Carlson, Joey Fala, Weston Jennings, and Jonathan Sanchez