Many Ithaca world-music enthusiasts might not be aware that there is a musical ensemble in Ithaca that specializes in music of the Middle East. The Cornell Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Music Ensemble (CMEMME) was co-founded in the summer of 2002 by Marty Hatch, music professor and ethnomusicologist at Cornell, and local middle-eastern music expert and multi-instrumental wizard Nikolai Ruskin. Originally the group consisted of 12 people, and was known as the Cornell Middle Eastern Music Ensemble (CMEME). Rehearsals took place in Marty Hatch’s barn on Monday evenings.
By Fall 2002 the ensemble became part of the Cornell curriculum as a one-credit ensemble course. Eventually rehearsals moved to Lincoln Hall at Cornell University. Gail Holst-Warhaft, a Cornell scholar who is an expert on Mediterranean cultures in general and Greek music in particular, joined the group as a co-director and vocalist. The ensemble now numbers at about fifteen to twenty participants each semester. They are living up to their name by continuously expanding their repertoire to include a broader range of music from various cultures in and around the Middle East, including Turkish, Greek, Armenian, Arabic, Hebrew, Kurdish, Persian, and other music from the region.
In the fall of 2006 CMEME was officially renamed the Cornell Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Music Ensemble, reflecting an increased interest in Turkish, Greek, and Armenian music by the ensemble. In the spring of 2007 musical direction was taken over from Nikolai (who had moved to Brooklyn to pursue other musical career opportunities) by Atakan Sari. Atakan has a wide-ranging knowledge of all kinds of musical cultures throughout the middle east, in addition to being a virtuoso classical pianist. He also plays the Turkish kemanche and the Armenian duduk.
The presence of CMEMME has created a growing interest in music from the Middle East, as well as a network of friends who share a love of the music. Cornell’s diverse student population makes it possible for CMEMME to explore a wide variety of music. The ensemble’s membership includes Ithaca residents, Cornell students and faculty of diverse nationalities and cultures, who all contribute by assisting with translations, gathering recordings, and coaching the non-native speakers with diction for singing. CMEMME also collaborates on events with student cultural groups to bring music to a wider audience on campus. The Cornell Middle Eastern Music and Mediterranean Music Ensemble is supported by the Department of Near Eastern Studies, the Music Department, and the Martin Hatch Foundation.
The ensemble is always looking for more members! Currently we have an epecially great need for percussionists, singers, and string players. But musicians of any kind, whether they currently know anything about middle eastern music or not, are encouraged to join us. The ensemble includes musicians of varying skill levels, from expert players to some who are just learning an instrument.
CMEMME’s website is http://www.arts.cornell.edu/cmeme/. If you would like to be included on our events and news email mailing list, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be put on the CMEMME news list.
CMEMME will be playing a free concert on Saturday December 6th, at 2:30 PM in the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell. The program will focus on songs from Istanbul, and will include Turkish, Greek, Armenian, and Ladino songs from this great multicultural city. Please join us! Ensemble directed by Atakan Sari with special guest perfomers: Engin Gunaydin, Harold Hagopian, Emrah Kanisicak,, Murat Keyder