Historic Concert by Ethiopian Nun Pianist & Composer in D.C.

Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru, a world renowned classical pianist and composer will perform on Saturday, July 12, 2008; 6pm - 8pm; at The Washington DC Jewish Community Center; located on 16th & Q streets NW. (Photo: The Nun celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem. Source: emahoymusicfoundation.org)

Historic Concert by Ethiopian Nun Pianist & Composer in D.C.

Published: Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Washington, DC (TADIAS) – A benefit concert featuring a live performance for the first time in 35 years by the Ethiopian Nun Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru, a world reknowned classical pianist and composer, is taking place on Saturday, July 12, 2008, at The Washington DC Jewish Community Center (16th & Q streets NW).

Emahoy’s first record was released in Germany in 1967 with the help of Emperor Haile Selassie. Other recordings followed with the help of her sister Desta Gebru; the proceeds were used to help an orphanage for children of soldiers who died fighting at the Italo-Ethiopian war.

From left: Yobdar Gebru (circa 1940), Yobdar Gebru (circa 1940s), Yobdar Gebru
(2nd left in back row).

Emahoy left Ethiopia following her mother’s death in 1984 and fled to Jerusalem, Israel because socialist doctrine in Ethiopia during the reign of dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam attacked her religious beliefs. Emahoy is now 85 years old and she plays the piano at the monastery nearly seven hours a day, she continues to write new solo piano compositions. Emahoy has been recognized by many music critics around the world and there is a growing interest in her life and her music by international media including Le Monde, BBC, and Canada TV.

Emahoy was born as Yewubdar Gebru in Addis Abeba on December 12, 1923 to a privileged family. Her father Kentiba Gebru and her mother Kassaye Yelemtu both had a place in high society. Yewubdar was sent to Switzerland at the age of six along with her sister Senedu Gebru. Both attended a girls’ boarding school where Yewubdar studied the violin and then the piano. She gave her first violin recital at the age of ten. She returned to Ethiopia in 1933 to continue her studies at the Empress Menen Secondary School. In 1937 young Yewubdar and her family were taken prisoners of war by the Italians and deported to the island of Asinara, north of Sardinia, and later to Mercogliano near Naples.

Prisoner of War on the Island of Azinara

After the war, Yewubdar resumed her musical studies in Cairo, under a Polish violinist named Alexander Kontorowicz. Yewubdar returned to Ethiopia accompanied by Kontorowicz and she served as administrative assistant in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and later in the Imperial Body Guard where Kontorowicz was appointed by the Emperor Haile Selassie as music director of the band.

Young Yewubdar Gebru first right

Young Yewubdar secretly fled Addis Abeba at the age of 19 to enter the Guishen Mariam monastery in the Wello region where she had once before visited with her mother. She served two years in the monastery and was ordained a nun at the age of 21. She took on the title Emahoy and her name was changed to Tsege Mariam. Despite the difficult life in religious order and the limited appreciation for her music in traditional Ethiopian culture, Emahoy worked fervently day and night. Often she played up to nine hours a day and went on to write many compositions for violin, piano and organ concerto.

In early 1960s Emahoy lived in Gondar studying the religious music of St Yared, composer and father of Mahlet, the early Ethiopian religious music. On her daily trips to and from the church, she came across young students in Liturgy known as “yekolo temari” One day she asked why these young people sleep outdoor by the church gate. She was told they beg for food and lodging and are homeless while they pursue their education with the church. Emahoy was deeply moved by the sacrifices these young people made to study the Mahlet. Although I did not have money to give them, I was determined to use my music to help these and other young people to get an education, Emahoy told Alula Kebede in her interview on his Amharic radio program on the Voice of America.

Source: emahoymusicfoundation.org

27 Responses to “Historic Concert by Ethiopian Nun Pianist & Composer in D.C.”

  1. 1 Samuel M. Gebru Jul 8th, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Haha, nice, we have the same last name! :)
    I wish her the best!

  2. 2 Abram Jul 8th, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    “Emahoy” is a wonderful human being, a great Woman, an amazing Ethiopian! Beautiful story!

  3. 3 MebrateM Jul 9th, 2008 at 7:22 am

    It is about time for Emahoy Tsige Mariam to write her autobiography about her extraordinary life blessed with amazing gifts. She is a great national treasure. Besides listening to remarkable piano pieces, I love to read about her rich and spiritual life which I suspect has a lot to teach me through its agonies and ecstasies. MAY THE LORD BLESS HER!

  4. 4 tame' Jul 9th, 2008 at 8:37 am

    Anybody who is interested to see her performing concert should find her CD and listen how interesting sound she created. I do not know her personally, but I was motivated by her music for a long time.

    Tame’ from DC

  5. 5 LA Jul 9th, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    what time is the concert i heard the door opens at 5pm

  6. 6 Haile- Jul 10th, 2008 at 6:58 am


    Thank you

  7. 7 Teka Jul 10th, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    The picture referring to Emahoy as “Prisoner of War” appears very unrealistic. Never seen that kind of picture of a prisoner.


  8. 8 Mekonnern Jul 11th, 2008 at 2:44 am

    Where can I get Emahoy’s music CD?

    Thank you.

  9. 9 Mariam Jul 13th, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    God bless and wish you all the best.

  10. 10 Ameha Giyorigs Jul 15th, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Besime Ab, WeWeld, WeMenfes Kidus Ahadu Amlak Amen.

    Although it is a very touching story, I was not pleased with some of the things I see on this article. First off, as you may all be aware, the name is Emahoye is given to for women that are followers of the Ethiopian Orthdox Tewahedo BeteKiristian , who chose to give up this materialistic world and give their lives to serve only the Almighty God. When choosing to be a nun in EOTC church, you vow to not to look back to your past and all the sinful worldly life, considering yourself dead to the things this world has to offer and fulfill the duties of God by walking the path and the rules our Great Fathers laid for us, and one of the path as I mentioned earlier is leaving this world behind, which includes your past hobbies that won’t bind you with God, in this case, playing the Piano. Our Mother, as we read her story, in her past life, she loved playing the piano before becoming menokse (nun) which means nothing because each of us plenty of hobbies that do not please God, however, after becoming a nun, after repenting and giving our word to God to leave this world behind along with the things that will pull us back to the world playing the Piano is defiantly not allowed, in a sense Piano is of the world not part of the Church. Please believe, this is not just part of a culture but part of the religion’s rules. As I read her story, I saw that she studied the hymns of St. Yared and mentioned how the Kolo Temariwoch lived outside churches to study the beautiful hymns of St. Yared, as our mother is a witness of this beautiful gift from God which has no attachment with the worldly musical instrument (Piano), for those of you know the hymns of St. Yared, Piano has nothing to do with it, but has its own gracious sounds and movies that was given to St. Yared to praise ONLY the Lord of Hosts. As I tried to explain the difference between living in this world and being a nun (Menokse) which is significantly different, thus my last statement to our Mother is to trade her hobby (or love of music, or love of piano) to the love of Christ, as she is restricted only to serve him not to please this worldly feelings. AS our Lord himself said, he who wants to serve (follow) me leaves everything (this world) behind and carry my cross. As piano (music) in general is from this world, we should all leave that behind and concentrate on servicing and pleasing only God. Especially the followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, because God gave us the hymns of St. Yared. We need to commemorate the hymns of St. Yared NOT jazz & classical music. We need to work harder to introduce the breath taking hymns of St. Yared not the worldly music.

    Please Note: I am not Judging her but stating the facts about our religion, please pray for me so I won’t be judgmental as judging a person is a great sin (Mat 7:1)

    Egziabhair Yihn Endinderg Yiradn, please pray for so I can leave by what I wrote above

    Ameha Giyrogis

  11. 11 Tekle Mariam Jul 17th, 2008 at 8:03 am

    I am truly impressed by what Amhagiorgis has put. A rational man who read the article of Amhagiorgis can easily cite the facts and truth behind EOTC. I am concerned for the word “nun”. This might imply wrong teaching to others. Please all of us what we should understand is Tsigemariam can be a famous pianist but at the same time we should know that as a religious person governed by rules and orders a nun is not allowed to be part of the world after her ordination and repent.

    Tekle Mariam

  12. 12 Gebre Eyesus Jul 18th, 2008 at 7:38 am

    Besime Silus Kidus, Amen!

    Dear all underline that, as I am a sinner one, I am not commenting on, but from the point of reality that we must be in line with our Church.

    As I have read the history of “Emahoy”, I afraid that it is not the right deed, since the current challenge to our church is, people have query “why the church not use the worldly musical instruments… Guitar, Piano…”. However, our Church does have a very precious and spiritual gift to praise our LORD, based on the Holy Bible, i.e., St. Yared’s Holy Hymen, written books of the hymen…

    In the late 1980′s of Ethiopian calendar, trial and challenge to use the worldly musical instruments was a big issue, by “Tehadso” movement (currently, they have already joined the Protestants). Thanks to our LORD, our Fathers solved it amicably.

    However, today also many ask about its use forgetting the background, the sacrifices that our St. Fathers paid to transfer all the things in our Church for today, Which is stated that praising our LORD, using Begena, Mesenko… (Mezmur 150:1-6), what ever the English Bible would say, our reference must be our Holy Bible.

    As our Church puts the right rules and regulations with the will of our LORD, the way we should follow, while we live in., we must abide with her rules, unless other wise, unknowingly or knowingly, we would trace back to the queries of the “Tehadiso”, which is very contrary to our Church.

    So that at any point, whilst we have issue of such kind and others, we have to see them against our Churches Dogmas, rules and regulations and traditions. Besides, we should have to consult the concerned Church Fathers.

    Your sinner brother,

    Gebre Eyesus

  13. 13 Yohannes Jul 20th, 2008 at 12:28 am

    I am very much impressed at the same time concerned to see the commentary of Ameha Giyorigs. Particularly, he mentioned as if type of musical instrument would be classified as sinful “worldly musical instrument (Piano)” and other that are heavenly. For a single minute, I am not questioning or doubting the historical facts that our forefathers sacrificed to preserve and defend our faith, which for generation become the corner stone of our being. The richness and archaic Christan dogma have flourished our country in many ways. On the other hand, it has been a historical fact that our tradition, which has been influenced heavily by the Churches, contributed to the slow pace of our interaction with other Christian denominations.

    It is very naive for me to comment on this issue of “piano” but I would not say other faithful Christians that have similarity on the 7 Sacraments with the EOTC are conducting the worldly or unfaithful rejoice to our Lord. At time in Rome,Istanbul, or Athena they have rejoiced the Lord with what they got but now different and it would not disqualify them from being the children of God. The last word of Psalm 160:6 says “Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord”.

    Finally, I am a sinful person and I ask my Lord for his forgiveness.

    God bless you all.
    Let Mary the mother of our Lord shield us from all evil work

  14. 14 Sara Jul 20th, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    I am so touched by this story. I admire the fact that Emahoy is able to continue something she loves AND still gives her life to God. But what upsets me, is the comments written about her hobby. I don’t understand how playing something that cannot only bring joy to others and praise God in the most beautiful way be sinful? Wasn’t it mentioned several times in the Bible that the angels were SINGING His praises? I am 14 yrs old and love to sing, and I don’t think that what I love to do is sinful. Instead of Protestants,Orthodox and Catholics fighting over what is sinful and what is not, why is it so hard for us to focus on what’s most important? God and the stability of Ethiopia. If it is easy for me, a 14 yr old girl,to realize the true meaning of this story and not dwell on something as little as whether her hobby is sinful, then it shouldn’t be that hard for most of you adults.

    God bless your path in life,
    A loving Ethiopian

  15. 15 Elfinesh Jul 28th, 2008 at 7:30 am

    I am one of the admirers of Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru. I love her music. I have been looking for her music for a long time. I admire her talents and her sacrifice and committment of her life to serve God and the humankind. She became a nun at the age of 19 and since then she has been living a chaste life. She has been helping many poor and needy people. What better way is there to serve God? She is the only Ethiopian Emahoy who is a gifted musician and a composer. Her music is a master piece. All Ethiopians must be very proud of her and admire her for her contribution to the music world. At the age of six she left her country to a foreign land away from her country and family and being in a boarding school must have been a hard time. Still under this conditions, to perform a violin recital at the age of ten is a great achievement. I am not a musician and I understand very little about it but it must be very hard to practice 7 to 10 hours daily as a child and to perform a recital at this age. She has used her God given talents and she is serving Him and praising Him with piano and violin. What harm does that bring? Who said that one should not praise the Lord in this manner with these instruments? I was very dissapointed to read some of the comments given above. It is a shame. Why is it some Ethiopians criticise the work of other people, condemn and judge? Who are we to do that? Why can’t we leave that to the Almighty God? Instead of appreciating and encouraging people and try to learn from this master minds and be happy and proud that there are some Ethiopians who have achieved that. We judge? Is it because of ignorance, jealosy, afraid of change, not willing to be progressive? Please let us ask ourselves.


  16. 16 abatenna Jul 28th, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    I did not know that the Ehiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church rejects the use of the piano. Isn’s that somewhat hypocritical—while the Church regularly uses micropdhones to sing and preach to its congregation?

  17. 17 G. E. Gorfu Sep 16th, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    Besme Ab, we Wold, we Menfes Kidus:

    The response of Ameha Giyrogis is in the best tradition of the old Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which was governed by Alexandria, Egypt. That church also forbade farming decreeing some 420 saint days in a year of only 360 days. Isn’t that absurd? Yes it is, but true!

    When will the likes of Ameha Giyrogis wake up to the reality of the tricks Egypt and the Arabs have been playing on us, Ethiopians, for centuries? Piano and many other musical instruments are sin, and so are arts and crafts the works of the budda, (demons) and they can also cast an evil eye on you… etc.

    It is clerics like Ameha Giyrogis within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church that persecuted the famous Kidus Yared, jealous of his talent, because they could not sing and compose music like him. There is no burial place of Kidus Yared as he fled away from their persecution, and no one knows where and how his life ended. The same thing happened to our national philosopher, Zerea Yaekob, and he too fled away from the clerics of Axum to work for a wealthy farmer at Enfraz, in Begemidir, Gonder. So, I am not surprised by the response of Ameha Giyorgis. It is high time that we reject such response as anti Ethiopian, and has no merit.

    What Emahoy is doing is beautiful and should be respected. She is a true Ethiopian, and may God bless her, keep her well, and give her many more years to play her music.

  18. 18 Bisrat Sep 16th, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    Emahoy is a God gifted talented Ethiopian. She deserves all of our respect. I am not sure if playing piano is a sin. However, Believing in what you believe is not a sin as long as Amohay is not lying, cheating..etc refer to the ten commandments of Moses. If the world is aware of the right religion, all human beings would have the same religion as well as doctrine. Religion is just a believe system hence, there is no right and wrong. Having said that, I believe Amohay is doing the right thing.

    May God give Amahoy love and strength to share her experience with all of us.

    God bless Amohay.

  19. 19 belay Sep 17th, 2008 at 1:10 am


    I have heard about Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru for a long time. But this is the first time that I have learned that she is the daughter of Kentiba Gebru and the sister of Desta Gebru, well known Ethiopians.

    Emahoy , prisnor of azhinara ?”

    By the way, Desta Gebru her sister was once director of Etege Menen School, and the first women elected to parliament.

    Long live Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru , with all my heart.

  20. 20 Fessessework Assebe Aug 4th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    I have great respect for Emahoy Tsege Mariam, what she has done and what she intends to do. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about the concert and missed it. Hopefully, I would visit her in Jerusalem one day. I listened to few of her compositions and liked them.

    God be with her. May he be her right hand and give her long life.

    With respect,
    Dr. Fessessework Assebe

  21. 21 Merawi Oct 14th, 2009 at 3:25 am

    Emahoy you are simply an inspiration to the truthful heart.

    You inspire me because you are free. Because you have found the truth in you. And because you have known the God who resides in the temple of your heart. I understand that you herald the words of God through each strike of keys of your piano; Is it just a piano that you play anyway? Otherwise, why would it attract anyone’s taste? Unless it comes from where we came? And that is God.

    I also understand that you live in a world which is overwhelmingly filled with misunderstanding. So pe0ple may envy you for your freedom. For the freedom that they missed due to their own laziness- to walk up along the path of truth and honesty and find it for themselves. Crippled by fear, and therefore by ignorance. So they judge you, just to make themselves feel better. It is not surprising though for they had done the same to the lord.

    God bless you, God bless the truthful heart.

  22. 22 Yibel Teshale Nov 21st, 2009 at 7:35 am

    I am truly impressed, not by Emahoye’s amazing life and capabilities but by some of the comments on this board. It seems these days we are even ready to tell other folks; how to thank God, how to live our lives; how to pray where to pray and even what instrument to use to pray.

    She obviously likes the piano, not the begena, but as any musician worth his/her salt she could probably play any instrument (especially if she practices 9 hours a day). Let her use whatever she likes and play it however she wants.

    She obviously likes using music in praise of God. Her life is not unlike Saint Yared’s. He was not understood as well in the 6th Century until Atse Gebre Meskel’s mesmerized wounding of his foot.

    She was a member of the Aristocracy and yet shunned her life of pleasure, the chance to have a happy married life with children and a husband in the devotion to her faith and the almighty. Rather than finding some if not all of this astounding and trying to emulate her in some way in your lives, you talking heads can’t help prattling off how she was less than perfect.

    Do you realize how ridiculous you all sound ? Christ himself could come down and you would be too busy criticizing how there wasn’t enough flash and bang in his arrival to notice the end of times was here.

    What is this assumed right to criticize everything ? Where do you folks get the arrogance to believe you have any right to tell another human being how they may praise God? If the EOTC authorities in the 1950′s and 60′s and the defender of the Orthodox faith the Emperor of Ethiopia didn’t find issue with her practice who are you to judge her?

    Her eyes were watching God and trying to emulate him when most of you were probably watching Russia and China and destroying the schools and public transportation system it had taken decades of sacrifice to build.

    It is apparent (some of you) do not care about “Ethiopia” unless its the Ethiopia you dream about (and perhaps other folks have nightmares about). You can’t share this Ethiopia with a nun who serves God, how in the world are you going to share/live in it with each other?

  23. 23 geta Demisse Mar 3rd, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Hello everyone,

    Could someone advice me on where to buy her CD? I would appreciate it.

    Thank You


  24. 24 Yihem Yalfal May 4th, 2010 at 4:32 am

    She is a great lady with remarkable achievements. I am proud of her. She is a genius and a humanitarian. Above all, she is a God fearing righteous person.

  25. 25 In Seek of Truth Nov 22nd, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Thank you for your very insightful comment G.E. Gorfu! I am so disheartened to still see people with thoughts and understandings of Ameha Giyorigs. Questioning whether the Piano is of sin?? Let us not forget that the Bible has a limited SPECIFIED list of what things are considered “sins” and what are not (the 10 commandments, Galatians 5:19-22, etc). As for those that have not been specified, who do you think deems whether they are sin or not? …are they not deemed so by teachers of the word i.e., MEN – man from different eras, cultures, educational background/lack of, spiritual maturity levels, etc… And are we then saying that their teachings are not influenced by these factors and thus are contextual? of course they are!! I like how G.E Gorfu put it “…the Alexandria-Egypt church also forbade farming decreeing some 420 saint days in a year of only 360 days. Isn’t that absurd!…” YES IT IS!!! It is high time we start seeking truth in the Bible ourselves as well as through spiritual leaders. We do not have to blindly accept all that we are told because it simply comes from a figure of authority.


  26. 26 janhoy Jan 31st, 2012 at 2:03 am

    i read the story listening “homeless wanderer”. she is so great.
    God bless Emahoy.

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