History and ministry
Meriha Iwran, a school for the blind, was opened in Addis Ababa by Mennonite missionaries in 1952. Eleven years later, the school for the blind was transferred to Sebeta, a town twenty –five kilometers to the southwest of Addis Ababa, leaving the high school members to continue their studies in different schools in Addis Ababa.
0ne of the subjects taught by the missionaries was music. In this regard, Miss Alice Snyder played the leading role in teaching Braille music notation to the blind students. She enabled several boys to become good organ and piano players.
Meriha Iwran choir was started sometime in 1955. It was a boys’ choir. However, the boys who sang the soprano and alto parts were so young that their voices resembled girls’. Hence, it appeared to be a mixed choir. It was highly popular through the 1950s and early 1960s. As students left Meriha Iwran for further studies, new members joined the choir, and those who sang the soprano and alto parts shifted to the tenor or bass parts as their voices grew deeper.
The Choir (sometimes also quartets and octets of its members) sang spiritual songs on special occasions, such as religious conferences in Addis Ababa and beyond. There were occasions where the School Choir joined with other choirs to sing at special ceremonies. For instance, once the School Choir joined the Ethiopian Evangelical Mekane Yesus Church Choir and sung at the same church for the audience throughout the special religious ceremony. One of the songs was sung in eight parts. There were also occasions, where members of the School Choir joined Mennonite missionary singers at wedding ceremonies.
Miss Alice Snyder was responsible for organizing the choir and managed it until the school for the blind was transferred to Sebeta in 1963. Afterward, whenever former choir members had the chance of getting together, they sang hymns in quartets, octets, or in whatever number they were present. In 1973, the first directors of Meriha Iwran, Martha Keener and her husband, came to Ethiopia to visit different Mennonite Mission institutions and their former students. We believe that former choir members sang in honor of their former directors, whom they considered as their mother and father. But this was an informal performance.
Following the transfer of the school to Sebeta, the Mennonite missionaries were no longer in charge of the school. So, there was no chance of continuing the Addis Ababa choir. However, the Sebeta School for the Blind had its own choir. The regular music teacher was Ato Abera Gulelat, a gifted former student of the Addis Ababa School for the Blind. In addition to what he learned from the School for the Blind, he got training in a special school in Rome for nearly one year and later on in the Yared School of Music in Addis Ababa. In addition to what they learned from their regular music teacher, the Sebeta Choir members obtained training from well-known musicians such as Professor Ashenafi Kebede. The Sebeta choir members were not limited to spiritual songs and hymns. They were engaged in secular music as well, some of them gaining fame in this regard.
» Visit website of Zena Wengel Ministry
Alice Snyder made tape recordings of the choir songs from time to time. These recordings were reel tapes and taken to the US. Later, they were transformed into cassette tapes.
Its seems that there is also a recording in the Radio Voice of the Gospel Archives:
- Programme “Lift up your voice” (11.15)
9 tapes; pay particular attention to:
R/LUYY-7: [AAU Christian Students’ or Eth. Univ. Stud. Christian (?)] Fellowship Choir / Blind students from Addis Ababa / Director Jack Smith (broadcasted on 1973.09.07)
For further reading
Hege, Nathan B. (1998). Beyond Our Prayers: An amazing half century of church growth in Ethiopia, 1948-1998. Scottsdale / Waterloo: Herald Press, p. 72-74
Alemu Checole (assisted by Samuel Asefa), “Mennonite Churches in East Africa,” in Anabaptist Songs in African Hearts: A global Mennonite history, ed. Alemu Checole et al, p. 191-53. Intercourse, PA: Good Books / Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press. [See esp. p. 208; the late Alemu Checole was a student of the School for the Blind]