Empath Concerts: A New Way of Perfoming Music With M4Arts Artist Emma Johnson

Empath Concerts is a new concert series whose purpose is to bring people together to experience art and at the same time start conversations about important social issues. We have caught up with Empath Concerts Co-Founder and M4Arts Cello Artist Emma Hay Johnson.

About Empath Concerts

Hi Emma, thank you for your time. Can you tell us more about Empath Concerts?

Sure, Empath is a concert series that aims to cultivate an open-minded dialogue about current and social affairs through music. Our evening concerts include live classical music and thoughtful discussions that bridge music history and modern topics.

Concerts are programmed based on the topic for the evening and the historical context of the music is used to fuel the discussions for relevant topics today.

It sounds really interesting. What kind of topics do you generally discuss after the concerts?

Our discussions are facilitated by co-founder Celaya and I and led by the audience. Topics are chosen based on important issues present in the world today. For example we had discussions on nationalism, appropriation, gender and the one we held at The M Institute for Arts was on classism.

What would you like your Empath Concerts to bring?

It's a way for music to serve society. Our hope is that audiences leave feeling inspired to continue these conversations in their day to day lives.

Currently, our concerts are hosted in Maryland, typically in homes, which help to facilitate the feeling of community that we aspire to create. Eventually, we would love to take Empath Concerts on the road and present them in community centers and universities all over the country to further empower audiences and classical music lovers.

How Empath Concerts started

How did you come up with the idea of Empath?

I met friend and Empath co-founder Celaya while pursuing our Master's degrees in music performance at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) in Amherst. During that time as members of the UMass graduate fellowship quartet, we became friends sharing our love for chamber music. When performing or attending concerts together, we often found ourselves discussing topics surrounding the composers and music and eventually current events.

Empath Concerts Co-Founders Celaya Kirchner (violin) & Emma Hays Johnson (cello)

So we started to plan for a concert series in the the D.C. area where we began organizing house concerts. We soon realized how eager audiences were so we found a way to join our love of chamber music and informed conversations empowering audiences to voice their opinions. Empath Concerts in fact focuses on the art of listening and empathy to experience music and address important issues in our world today.

How did you find the collaboration with M4Arts?

As an M4Arts faculty member, it came quite naturally to host one of our Empath Concerts at the Institute. That was in February last year when me and Celaya performed works by Bach, Bartok, and Ravel that show the contrast between music inspired by folk music and highly intellectual music. The repertoire we chose for the violin and cello duos explored how music tackles the clash of the classes given that the evening was centered around the topic of classism.

Following the performance was an audience-driven discussion giving a unique opportunity for concert-goers to directly engage with the performers and their fellow music lovers.

Besides you and Celaya, are there other musicians involved in the project?

We often invite guest artists and friend musicians. In the past series we had Christine Mann (cellist) and Carson Kirchner (violinist) presenting a concert centered around the topic of gender and playing a work by Kati Agocs for two cellos.

We then had guest artist Andrew Jones (viola) in a string tiro with us playing works by Dohnanyi and Bach on the theme of nationalism.

Andrew and Amyr Joyner (violin) also presented works by women composers including "Limestone and Felt" by Caroline Shaw for viola and cello for discussions centered around "Herstory".

On the topic of cultural appropriation we planned an evening with two incredible guest artists from North Carolina, violinist Gabriela Potter and violist Santiago Vazquez-Loredo accompanying me and Celaya in the performance of Dvorak's "American" Quartet and two transcriptions from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.

Thank you Emma. Best of luck for the next Empath Concert series.

You're welcome. We look forward to our next concert at M4Arts.

About Emma

M4Arts Artist and faculty member Emma Hays Johnson is a chamber musician and private instructor residing in the D.C. area. She performs regularly with her piano trio, the Milo Trio.

Through her invitations to be a Next Generation Alumni Artist at East Carolina University’s Summer Chamber Music Institute, Emma has worked alongside Xiao-Dong Wang, Hye-Jin Kim, Ara Gregorian, Colin Carr, Emanuel Gruber and Raman Ramakrishnan. Her string quartet, Katfem, has been coached by musicians from world-renowned ensembles such as the Ying Quartet, Dover Quartet, and Juilliard Quartet. Emma has toured the East Coast and internationally in France and Sri Lanka for concerts and lectures.

Emma teaches cello and chamber music at M Institute for the Arts in Washington D.C. As a freelancer, she has been a member of several orchestras including the Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra, the American Festival Pops Orchestra and the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra.

Prior to receiving her second Masters in Music Performance at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst under the tutelage of Edward Arron, she held the position of adjunct professor at Beaufort County Community College in North Carolina.

In this video you can view her performing the first movement of J. Brahms' Cello Sonata in F Major.

Emma Hays studied at Converse College and George Mason University under the tutelage of Kenneth Law and she graduated with her first Master’s Degree from East Carolina University under the instruction of Emanuel Gruber.


To learn about Empath Concert you can visit www.empathconcerts.com

To learn more about Emma Hays Johnson visit www.emmahayscello.com

To book a class with Emma please contact us at schedule@m4arts.org

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