Ellen Oak Joins EDS as Director of Music

Ellen Oak

Ellen brings a wealth of experience to EDS as a musician, retreat leader, and teacher. She earned a Master of Music in Choral Conducting at Yale School of Music, as well as a Master of Arts in Religion, Music, and Worship at Yale Divinity School. She has served as director of music at Regis College, adjunct professor in worship, theology and the arts at Andover Newton Theological School, and as the director of music at Saint John’s Seminary in Brighton.

Ellen also comes to EDS with conducting experience including as the founding artistic director of The Boston Women’s Rainbow Chorus, KAIROS Vocal Ensemble, and Three Rivers Chorus. She was also a guest conductor for the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus in 2008.

She has ministered as musician, liturgist, and teacher in a variety of denominations, including Roman Catholic, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Unitarian Universalist, and Christian Science. An artistic associate of Bethany House of Prayer in Arlington, Massachusetts, and a Benedictine oblate, Ellen lives in Maynard, Massachusetts, with her husband David and two children.

As the fall session is now in full swing, we were able to catch up with the very busy new director of music ask her a couple of questions.

What are you most looking forward to about being at EDS as its Director of Music?

I’m excited about being part of an academic and spiritual community that both values exploration and excellence in worship, music, and the arts as integral to the life of faith, and is looking beyond the horizon with sustained energy, focus, and courage to imagine the future of global Christianity in the 21st century.

What role do you hope that music will play at EDS? 

I hope that making music will become a hearth fire for the EDS community. Music in worship, certainly. But also making music as a mode of learning, and a medium of dialogue with contemporary culture through performances, lecture/demonstrations, workshops, and residencies of professional artists on campus.

How do you see yourself helping in the formation of EDS students through music?

Over the history of Christianity, singing has been one of the prime ways the faith has been embodied in community, shared with the world at large, and passed on from one generation to the next. I want what I do to help students experience this first hand and become reflective and articulate about it. I want to help them grow as authentic and convincing witnesses to the life of the arts and the life of faith. I want them to leave here inspired and hungry for more.

What is your favorite season of the church calendar and how is it characterized by its music?

I love Advent for a number of reasons. I find it so attuned to human experience in its overlapping and often contradictory moods and images and because of the astonishing richness of artistic expression inspired by it. I find there is more crossover and commingling of “folk” and “fine” arts traditions in this season than in others. And I get to sing the Magnificat in so many different ways, so many times.

I’m really looking forward to our Lessons and Carols Service at the beginning of December. We’re planning a very special service. 

You’ve been here on campus for a couple of weeks now, what have you noticed about EDS on the ground?

I’ve noticed a tremendous reverence for the Chapel as a sacred space, as well as for the act of worship. It’s beautiful to see this combined with a great deal of human warmth and a commitment to hospitality. I have also found people here to be very courageous and open to learning new things.