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School holds Honors Banquet, Alumni Commencement Ceremony

School of Music Alumni ceremony 2022

On Saturday, May 14, the School of Music recognized the accomplishments of current students and welcomed back to campus alumni from the Classes of 2021 and 2022 for whom there was no YSM Commencement ceremony due to the pandemic. At the first Honors Banquet the School of held in two years, YSM Dean Robert Blocker told those gathered, “It has been an extraordinary journey” that brought students, faculty, staff, family, and friends together again.

Andre Thomas and Dean Robert Blocker
André J. Thomas and Dean Robert Blocker

Blocker presented the School’s highest honor, the Samuel Simons Sanford Medal—whose namesake was the first professor of applied music at the University and one of the School’s founding leaders—to André J. Thomas. “Here,” Blocker said upon presenting the award, “we have a person who is a complete musician,” telling Thomas, “We have been enriched by your presence.” For the past two years Thomas served as Visiting Professor of Choral Conducting and Interim Conductor of the Yale Camerata.

Syoko Aki and Dean Robert Blocker
Syoko Aki and Dean Robert Blocker

Blocker announced the establishment of the Doris Yarick-Cross Voice Studio, in honor of the retired Professor of Voice and Yale Opera Director (now Professor Emerita of Music), and the Syoko Aki Erle Teaching Studio, in honor of the School’s longest-serving faculty member, to whom Blocker presented the Ian Mininberg Distinguished Service Award. Syoko Aki Erle plans to retire at the end of the academic year.

Earlier in the day, the School held an in-person Commencement ceremony for the Classes of 2020 and 2021. During the noontime exercises, Blocker told graduates, in a speech, titled The Choice Is Yours, that, “art tells the truth … and that is what you have been doing.” Pointing to the pandemic, racism, partisan jurisprudence, and despotism total and imagined, Blocker quoted Leonard Bernstein, who, in 1972, told The Los Angeles Times, “Art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job. That was never its function. Art cannot change events but it can change people.” We must summon whatever resilience is in us, Blocker said, encouraging the YSM grads to “live your life with courage, compassion, and a sure sense of direction.”

About 65 graduates returned  to New Haven for the Alumni Ceremony in Morse Recital Hall, and many attended the Honors Banquet, which was held at the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale and included a late-evening, DJ-led dance party. The following awards were presented during the Honors Banquet.


The Thomas Daniel Nyfenger Memorial Prize,which is awarded to a graduating student who has demonstrated the highest standard of excellence in woodwind playing, was presented to oboist Soo Min Ha.

The John Swallow Prize, which is given to an outstanding brass player whose artistry and dedication have contributed to the department, was awarded to horn player Ava Conway.


The Robert Shaw Prize, given in honor of the renowned American choral conductor and awarded to a choral conducting major in the School of Music chosen for distinguished achievement by the choral conducting faculty, was presented to Maura Tuffy.


The Woods Chandler Memorial Prize for the best composition in a larger form written during the year was awarded to Soomin Kim.

The Rena Greenwald Memorial Prize for the best piano composition written during the year went to Udi Perlman.

The John Day Jackson Prize for outstanding chamber music compositions written for strings, with or without other instruments, was presented to Samantha Wolf.

The Frances E. Osborne Kellogg Memorial Prize for the best composition written in a contrapuntal style was given to Sofia Pfleger.

The Ezra Laderman Prize for the best compositions written for musical theater or voice was awarded to Joel Thompson.


The Charles Ives Prize, which is awarded to an outstanding organ major, went to Mengfei Xu.

The Julia R. Sherman Memorial Prize for excellence in organ playing was awarded to Manuel Piazza.


The Charles S. Miller Prize, which is given to a gifted pianist who has done outstanding work during the first year of study, was awarded to Muzi Zhao.

The Elizabeth Parisot Prize, which goes to outstanding pianists in the School of Music, was awarded to Carter Johnson and Linda Lee.


The Aldo Parisot Prize, which is awardedto gifted cellists who show promise for a concert career, was presented to Stephen Perkyns and Hans Emil Sollesnes.

The Broadus Erle Prize, which is given to the members of an outstanding string quartet in the School of Musicwent to violinists Jieming Tang and Ilana Zaks, violist Madison Marshall, and cellist William Suh.


The David L. Kasdon Memorial Prize, which is awarded to an outstanding singer in the School of Music, went to tenor Jonghyun Park.

The Smriti Deb Memorial Prize, which is given to an outstanding graduating singer who best reflects and exemplifies the ideal and values of Smriti Deb and her commitment to teaching low-income and under-represented children, was awarded to tenor Jordan Costa.

The Phyllis Curtin Career Entry Prize, whose purpose is to assist in launching the career for a graduating voice student who demonstrates exceptional talent as an artist and promise for a professional career, was awarded to baritone Laureano Quant Callejas.


The Friedmann Thesis Prize, which is awarded to a DMA candidate whose thesis is notable for its distinguished research, original perspective, in-depth engagement with its subject, and well-crafted presentation, was given to composer Udi Perlman.


The Malcolm L. Mitchell and Donald M. Roberts, Class of 1957 Prize, which is given to the outstanding graduating teaching artist in the Music in Schools program, was awarded to flutist Rachel Johnstone.

The Philip Francis Nelson Prize, which is awarded to a graduating student whose musicianship is outstanding and who demonstrates curiosity, talent, and the entrepreneurial spirit in the many dimensions of the music profession, was presented to pianist Seho Young.

The Presser Foundation Music Award, which is awarded to an outstanding returning student to advance their music education, went to percussionist Russell Fisher.

The Plank Music Residency, established by the estate of Raymond Plank ’44BA, is awarded to two students of distinguished achievement in their major. Each will complete a two-week residency of independent work in the extraordinary setting of the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming. The awardees were violist Florrie Marshall and violinist Andrew Samarasekara.

The Yale School of Music Alumni Association Prize, which is awardedto graduating students who have not only excelled in their respective fields but have also made important contributions to the general life of the School, was presented to guitarist Kai ieng Chan, clarinetist Alejandro Dergal, cellistJonah Ellsworth, guitarist Roberto Granados, pianist Salome Jordania, percussionist Ching Laam Yeung, cellist Miriam Liske-Doorandish, double-bassist Zachary Merkovsky, pianist Anthony Ratinov, flutist Elvin Schlanger, and oboist William Stevens.

Photos by Harold Shapiro.