Cornell University Middle Eastern Music Ensemble

The Cornell University Middle Eastern Music Ensemble (CUMEME) is a Cornell University Student organization. Membership is open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and Ithaca community members.

CMEMME performs traditional Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Greek and other music from the Middle East (aka Near East). Ensemble rehearsals consist of learning instruments and repertoire from the folk, popular and classical genres, and several performances are given throughout the semester.

The presence of CUMEME 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 CUMEME 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 University Middle Eastern Music Ensemble has been supported by Cornell SAFC, the Department of Near Eastern Studies, the Music Department, and the Martin Hatch Foundation, and organized by the Mediterranean Initiative of the Cornell Institute for European Studies.

Instruments played by CUMEME members have included oud (fretless lute), saz, qanun (zither), nay (cane flute), violin, viola, cello, bass, keman (a type of violin), mandolin, guitar, voice, many percussion instruments such as tabla (goblet drum), riq (tambourine), darbouka, djembe, and duf (frame drum), as well as Arabic accordion, saxophone, and clarinet.
(click on the links above to learn more about the traditional instruments)
Some instruments are available to registered Cornell students for short-term loan.

About Middle Eastern Music
The musical traditions of the Middle East (a.k.a. Near East) share certain characteristics, known in Arabic music as maqam and iqa'. The term maqam describes a system of modes whose intervals are measured quartertones (or microtones). The maqam is characterized by certain phrasings and central tones that make each mode unique. Iqa' is the term for a wide variety of rhythmic patterns played on percussion instruments that form the ground on which the melody is played. Although there are many common characteristics that define the music of the Middle East, there is also a wide variety of regional variations of tone intervals, rhythms, and language dialects, all of which give each style a unique flavor that takes a lifetime to fully master. CUMEME strives to understand and share this rich variety of music with their audience.

History of CUMEME

Nikolai Ruskin and Martin Hatch founded the Cornell Middle Eastern Music Ensemble (CMEME) in the summer of 2002 with the purpose of exploring Middle-Eastern musical traditions. The first rehearsal took place in a barn on Professor Hatch's farm, where a group of 12 musicians gathered on Monday nights from 7-9pm. By Fall 2002 the ensemble became part of the Cornell curriculum as a one-credit ensemble course (no longer offered).

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) by Atakan Sari.

From Spring 2009 until Fall 2013, musical direction of the ensemble was taken over by Harold Hagopian, after Atakan Sari returned to Turkey. Harold Hagopian is an Armenian-American violinist and record producer. He operates the Traditional Crossroads record label out of New York. He is an accomplished violinist, in the realms of classical music and also playing Armenian music often with his father Richard on oud. He also plays the qanun and clarinet.

The ensemble became an official Cornell University Student Organization in 2014. Joseph Prusch has taken over as musical director, and the ensemble is now called the Cornell University Middle Eastern Music Ensemble (CUMEME).