Ellen Oak

artistic excellence | intellectual acuity | spiritual imagination | cultural courage

I was born and raised in midtown Manhattan, New York City, in a family of diverse musical, cultural and religious heritage. My father was an Estonian refugee from World War II, a gifted baritone, and steeped in the Russian Orthodox faith. My mother was an accomplished pianist and violinist, and grew up forged by the Depression in the Congregationalist tradition in Vermont. My formation in liturgical leadership began at age five with the girls choir at the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest, under the direction of Charles Dodsley Walker. I attended the Day School attached to the church through fourth grade, and then the Chapin School, until I matriculated at Swarthmore College at age 16, after my junior year of high school. I graduated With Distinction and Phi Beta Kappa with a major in music and a minor in religion. During college I taught Sunday school, sang in the choir, and studied the Bible at Swarthmore Presbyterian Church; attended Quaker meeting at Pendle Hill several days a week; and regularly celebrated Eucharist with the Catholic community in a dormitory common room. The summer after graduating from college I lived with a Benedictine community of women in New Prague, MN. I worked alongside them in the local hospital while I helped them to reshape and renew their liturgical life, and explored a monastic vocation for myself. I took five years between college and graduate school to hone my musical skills, working as director of music in Catholic, United Church of Christ, and Methodist churches, and teaching music at St. Michael’s School, Brattleboro, VT, and Vermont Academy, Saxton’s River, VT, while studying organ, conducting, voice, and composition privately.