Composer and musician Emahoy Tsegu-Mariam Gebru. (Photo Gali Tibbon)

Pianist & Composer Emahoy Tsege-Mariam Passes away at 99

ADDIS ABABA – Emahoy Tsege-Mariam Gebru, the Ethiopian nun revered for her compositions and unique playing style, passed away at the age of 99.

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam was born on December 12, 1923, in Addis Ababa.

Emahoy began studying music in her youth after she was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland at age 6 and became familiar with the violin.

Four years later, she returned to Ethiopia to continue her studies at the Empress Menen Secondary School where gave her first violin recital at the age of ten.

She spent time as a prisoner of war as Ethiopia fought to gain independence from its Italian colonizers in the late 1930s, which interrupted her practice, but she resumed her studies in Cairo with esteemed Polish violinist Alexander Kontorowicz.

She practiced for nine hours a day and remembers it as a happy time, but the Egyptian heat got to her and she was sent home to recover in the high-altitude, more temperate climate of Addis Ababa.

After her time in Cairo, 23-year-old Emahoy was offered a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London. But for reasons that she chose not to disclose, she was refused permission to go. The disappointment made her give up the classical piano and became a nun at Gishen Mariam Monastery.

“It was his willing,” Emahoy told Kate Molleson of The Guardian, who asked her what had prevented her from pursuing her studies. “We can choose how to respond.”

As a nun, Emahoy found spiritual clarity and satisfaction through music, composing for violin, piano, and organ.

Although she released many albums since her first release in 1967, it was her solo compositions in Ethiopiques Vol 21 that made her world famous.

Emahoy Tsege-Mariam composed more than 150 original works of music for piano, organ, opera, and chamber ensembles, and always donated the proceeds to charity. She also gave all of her copyrights to The Foundation in order to generate revenue and provide children with financial needs access to music education.

Emahoy relocated to the Ethiopian Orthodox church Monastery in Jerusalem in 1984 after the death of her mother, and remained there for the rest of her life.