Nov 30 - Dec 1: Emahoy Tsege-Mariam Gebru at 100

Emahoy Tsege-Mariam Gebru at 100 is a two-day symposium  celebrating the music and life of the legendary Ethiopian composer, pianist, and nun, Emahoy Tsege-Mariam Gebru. The events will include panel discussions about Emahoy’s life and archive, and presentations of Emahoy’s music (some never yet performed) in live concert performances, and from her personal recordings. All events will be free and open to the public, and hosted on Cornell’s campus. 

This symposium is generously co-sponsored by the Cornell Music Department, Cornell Council for the Arts, the Institute for Comparative Modernities, Cornell Africana Studies and Research Center, the Institute for African Development, the Cornell Center for Historical Keyboards, Society for the Humanities, the Jian and Tran Family Charitable Fund, and the Music Graduate Association, and Cornell Centers for Equity, Empowerment, and Belonging. 


Schedule of events


Thursday, November 30, 2023

RECITAL: Emahoy’s music for organ (12:30pm, Sage Chapel)

Prof. Annette Richards, organ

Three of Emahoy’s rarely heard original works for organ will resound afresh in Sage Chapel, performed by Professor (and University Organist) Annette Richards. Music DMA candidate Thomas Feng has prepared for this occasion new performance editions of these pieces, with reference to Emahoy’s manuscripts and an out-of-print 1972 record, Church of Kidane Mehret – Yet my king is of old. 

PANEL: On Emahoy’s archive (3:30pm, G64 Kaufmann Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall)

Desi Alexander, Tre Berney, Cyrus Moussavi, panelists 

Prof. Benjamin Piekut, moderator 

Only a fraction of Emahoy’s musical legacy has yet been represented on recordings and sheet music publications made available to the public. This panel will discuss Emahoy’s vast collection of home recordings and manuscripts, ongoing efforts to steward them (including those here at Cornell), and what music we might hear from them in the future. 

LISTENING PARTY: Souvenirs (5-6pm, G64 Kaufmann Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall) 

Emahoy sings poignantly of faith, family, and Ethiopia on Souvenirs, a record forthcoming on Mississippi Records. Following a panel discussion about Emahoy’s archival materials, this listening party offers an exclusive chance to hear music from Emahoy’s only full-length vocal album, transferred and mastered from Emahoy’s own home cassette recordings, before its release in the coming spring. 


Friday, December 1, 2023

PANEL: On Emahoy’s life and family (2-3:15pm, B20, Lincoln Hall) 

Hanna Kebbede, Tamrat Kebede, panelists 

Prof. Fouad Makki, moderator 

An aura of legend has coalesced around Emahoy’s astonishing life, marked by worldly renunciation, steadfast spiritual resilience, and restless migration and exile. This panel discussion will situate Emahoy as a not only legendary, but also historical figure, considering her biography against the backdrop of nearly a century of intense sociopolitical change, in Ethiopia and abroad. 

RECITAL: “Story of the Wind”: Piano music by Emahoy and Chopin (5-6:15pm, Auditorium, Barnes Hall)

Thomas Feng, piano 

Music DMA candidate Thomas Feng performs well- and lesser-known works by Emahoy, interspersed with music by her admired Chopin, for which scores were found in Emahoy’s room following her passing this past spring. Following Ghanaian musicologist Kofi Agawu’s proposed analytical framework of “strategic sameness”, this program seeks to illuminate parallels between the two composers, challenging the conception of Emahoy’s music as exotically, incommensurably “Other”, while also destabilizing received understandings of Chopin’s music as canonically unmarked. An alternation of laments, reminiscences, mazurkas, and (especially) waltzes culminates in a performance of Emahoy’s sprawling, unrecorded “Grande Valzer Improvisata”, inspired by Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and composed at the outset of the Ethiopian Revolution.

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Headshot of Emahoy Tsege-Mariam Gebru