Cynthia Tse Kimberlin

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Cynthia Tse Kimberlin
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Country Eritrea
Years: 1962-1964
Cynthia Tse Kimberlin started in Eritrea 1962
Cynthia Tse Kimberlin
Other Volunteers who served in Eritrea
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Michael Banister, Mikey McKillip, Kitty Piercy, Cynthia Tse Kimberlin, Nick vonKlock
Projects in Eritrea
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Cynthia Tse Kimberlin (born Cynthia Mei-Ling Tse in Ganado, Arizona, United States; Chinese name: 謝美玲; pinyin: Xiè Měilíng; Cantonese: Tse6 Mei5ling4) is an American ethnomusicologist. She is the Executive Director and Publisher of the Music Research Institute and MRI Press, based in Point Richmond, California. Her primary area of expertise is the music of Africa, in particular Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Kimberlin was born on the Navajo Nation, in Ganado, Apache County, Arizona and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California. She earned a B.A. degree in musicology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1962, directly after which she joined the Peace Corps, which had been founded a year earlier. Traveling to Ethiopia, she was sent to the northern province of Eritrea, where she served as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1962 to 1964. During this time she took it upon herself to conduct ethnomusicological fieldwork, although she had not yet received training in the field. She recorded many types of Eritrean and Ethiopian music (including songs of the Tigray-Tigrinya people), using a borrowed Philips reel-to-reel tape recorder with 3-inch reels. Many of these recordings are now of historical significance, as younger Tigray-Tigrinya people are largely unfamiliar with these songs.

In 1968 she received a master of arts degree in ethnomusicology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), writing her thesis on the subject of contemporary Ethiopian popular songs. While there, her instructors included Mantle Hood, Klaus Wachsmann, Charles Seeger, David Morton, Tsun-yuen Lui, Nicolas Slonimsky, and Paul Chihara.

In 1972 she returned to Ethiopia for more extensive fieldwork, recording a total of 97 reel-to-reel tapes of music performed by musicians from Shewa, Wollo, Begemder, Gojjam, Tigray, Eritrea, Welega, and Gamu-Gofa, in Addis Ababa, Harar, and Jijiga. While there she also devoted intensive study to the masenqo, a traditional one-stringed bowed instrument. While in Addis Ababa, she spent six months as a Fulbright Professor at Addis Ababa University in the Theater Arts Department, which was at that time under the chairmanship of Tesfaye Gessesse.

In 1976, she received her Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from UCLA. For her Ph.D. dissertation, she focused on the theory and practice of qenet (mode) among masenqo players of the Amhara people of Ethiopia, which she recorded in and around Addis Ababa.

In 1983 Kimberlin released an LP recording entitled Ethiopia: Three Chordophone Traditions, which included her field recordings of plucked and bowed string instruments of Ethiopia (begena, krar, and masenqo), along with her extensive liner notes. She also wrote the liner notes for The Music of Nigeria: Igbo Music (Bärenreiter Musicaphon, UNESCO Collection, 1983), an LP recording featuring the music of the Igbo ethnic group of Nigeria, where she has also conducted fieldwork. Music from her Three Chordophone Traditions LP was used in the 1999 documentary film Adwa, by Haile Gerima (who was a classmate of Kimberlin's at UCLA).

In addition to African musics, Kimberlin's scholarly interests include intercultural music after 1950, American music, African-East Asian reciprocities in music, ethno-biography, global issues relating to music change, and theoretical studies in music.

The Music Research Institute, of which Kimberlin serves as Executive Director, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational institution, which was founded in 1984 by Dr. Marcia A. Herndon, who served as Executive Director from 1984 to 1997). Kimberlin joined the Institute in 1986 and has served as Executive Director since 1997.

Kimberlin has taught at San Francisco State University, the University of California, Berkeley, Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia), and the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria).

Kimberlin has presented papers at numerous music conferences in the United States, Europe, Nigeria, Japan, and China, including many symposia organized by the ethnomusicologist and composer Akin Euba, whose opera Chaka has been released on CD by MRI Press.

She is the recipient of a Fulbright Dissertation Award, a Fulbright Teaching/Research Award, an American Council of Learned Societies grant, and a Beyond War Award recipient (for U.S. Peace Corps volunteers, 1987).

Kimberlin lives in Point Richmond, California with her husband Jerome. For many years she was affiliated with the Office of the President (Academic Affairs) at the University of California, Berkeley, and she also served as archivist for the Ethnomusicology Archive at UCLA.


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