In Loving Memory: Anne Gefell

 This site is in loving memory of Anne Gefell who passed one year ago on Sept. 2, 2017. The memorialization of her life coincides with the beginning of a new academic year. This coincidence of dates, if we want to call it that, means that Anne’s loving presence illuminates us every year as we begin anew. May the light of her intelligence, her kindness, her spirit of service, and her political commitment guide us every year as we retake our daily chores in the Department of Music. 

 We conceive of this as a living memorial to which new texts, sounds and images can be continuously added. As such, it is an invitation to continue our lives with the lessons about life, work and service that Anne taught us every day.

Ana M. Ochoa Gautier
Chair, Department of Music

Obituary from the Watertown Daily Times - September 9, 2017

Anne Marie Gefell, 62, passed away peacefully at her home in New York City on September 2nd, 2017. She was born in Rochester, New York, and was a lifelong summer resident of Thousand Island Park, New York. The beloved daughter of Robert H. and Margaret Keegan Gefell, Ann was a 1973 graduate of Bishop Kearney High School, Rochester. She earned a BA degree in 1976, and an Honor’s degree in Social Behavior from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, in 1978. Ann was employed for more than twenty years at Columbia University. She began her career in the Center for Oral History, and most recently served as the Director of Academic Administration and Finance in the Music Department. She was formerly employed with the Migrant Education Program, the Halfway House of Jefferson County, Cornell University, and Jones Day Law Firm. Ann helped coordinate the Red Harlem Readers Literary Group and sang soprano in the Choir of Ascension Church for many years. Ann was passionate about social justice and environmental issues. In the 1980’s, she rowed 150 miles down the St. Lawrence River to draw awareness to its damaged eco-system. Also, she was a founding member of Save the River, and actively served on its Board of Directors for 11 years. Ann chronicled and presented several oral history pieces about her beloved River and surrounding communities. She remained an avid swimmer throughout her life, and she always shared her deep affection for her siblings, their spouses, and her nieces and nephews. Ann is survived by her five siblings, Joan (Jeremiah) Donovan, Groton, NY; Claire Gefell Duffy, Cazenovia, NY; Robert (Rita) Gefell, Richard (Michele) Gefell, and Renee (Mark) Waterbury, all of Watertown, NY; 14 nieces and nephews; and six grand-nieces and nephews.


Ellie Hisama, Professor of Music & Theory Area Chair, Columbia University

In 1988 Anne published a photo essay titled “River Recollections: Portraits of Life along the St. Lawrence River in the 20th Century.”  In introducing the essay, she writes: “In 1983 I began to talk with people who lived along the St. Lawrence River and had experienced the economic, social, and ecological changes resulting from the building of the Seaway.” [The Seaway created a channel from the Atlantic all the way to the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence River in 1959.]  She wrote that her purpose was to “learn about [the people’s relationship to the river] by listening to the words of the people themselves.”

In spare, precise prose preceding a stunning collection of photographs that she curated and took, and an extraordinary set of remarks from interviews she conducted, Anne documented and commented on the removal of some 9,000 people, including members of the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne, Canadians, and US citizens; the destruction of the rapids, apple orchards, and dairy farms; and the effect of what was touted as “progress” on those people for whom the river was part of their everyday lives. 

Anne was a listener.  No matter how busy she was, she nearly always managed to make time to talk if you appeared in her doorway—anything from a complicated financial matter to a recollection about her siblings when they were babies to a story by Willa Cather she liked to a recent episode of Law and Order (we were both fans).  

She was an extraordinary administrator because she cared so deeply about the people she worked with.  She was an advocate and a scholar as her essay brilliantly demonstrates. Even with her full schedule, she attended campus events she was interested in, such as a Leonard Cohen retrospective panel last December, and a conference on music and American Studies ten years ago (both Aaron Fox and I presented our work at the conference). It has been a special pleasure these past weeks to learn about her longstanding work with the marvelous Red Harlem Readers. The many hats (and scarves) she wore are reflected in those who are here today to honor her: students, alumni/ae, administrators, faculty, their partners and children, and her own family. 

Those of you who worked with her know just how superbly she made the Music Department function and how she connected us so ably to the rest of the university. She possessed an unfathomably deep well of knowledge about how the university works, and was endlessly supportive and protective of so many. She of course knew very well the full-time faculty who have worked with her for decades, but she made a point of getting to know post-docs, visiting scholars, and the many dozens of adjunct faculty and music performances associates who are an integral part of this university.  Whenever I had a project that involved students (such as the symposium Women, Music, Power and the screening and talkback of the dance film LIGHT), Anne made it a priority to help me to arrange add-comp—additional compensation—for students. She worked extra-long hours to make this support possible, even sometimes e-mailing at 10:30 pm or on weekends. 

Anne’s extraordinary sense of compassion flowed outside of Columbia as well.  After her colleague Gabriela Kumar Sharma told her about Sahyog International, a non-profit organization based in Northern India that provides education, therapy, and support to greatly underresourced children with cognitive, speech, and hearing impairments, she wanted to be part of it. She served as the organization’s Secretary and provided critical feedback that helped extend the international branch’s operations into the US. She was extremely happy when Sahyog became a UN-accredited NGO and was very proud to obtain her UN pass that enabled her to participate in UN conferences in the General Assembly.

I have no idea how Anne had time for all of us on top of her extremely demanding duties as our beloved DAAF.  I do know that we will remember her kindness, spirited embrace of life, staunch belief in social justice, and unmatched generosity as we move forward, trying to act towards each other as generously and lovingly as she did.  Let us draw our strength to continue from her example.

Delivered at the Campus Memorial for Anne
Italian Academy, October 2017

Fred Lerdhal, Fritz Reiner Professor of Musical Composition, Columbia Univeristy

I worked with Anne Gefell for many years in three capacities in particular: as head of the composition program, as director of the Fritz Reiner Center for Contemporary Music, and as Secretary of the Alice M. Ditson Fund. As many of you know, the Reiner Center assists activities in contemporary music both in the Music Department and in New York City. The Ditson Fund is housed in Columbia University but is a national organization that supports the music of emerging American composers. Anne served as its fund administrator.In all three capacities, she was the person I relied on to arrange a payment, solve a problem, or discuss a strategy. It was a professional relationship but also a personal one, for we discussed all sorts of things, and I constantly turned to her for expertise and wisdom. She knew all the angles and always sought the most constructive solution. This came naturally to her because she was a deeply kind person. She also had a wry sense of humor that, in an understated way, could cut through any kind of nonsense. She had strong opinions but often kept them in reserve out of a sense of propriety. I would nudge them out of her if I needed her response as a guide to action.Her role with the Ditson Fund was particularly important at a time when several members of the advisory committee died or retired and we had to reconstitute its membership and mission. I consulted her every step of the way. The Fund’s meetings take place in midtown Manhattan at the Century Association and are accompanied by good food and wine. Anne greatly enjoyed these occasions, especially the banter over dinner of musicians grappling with professional issues and telling juicy stories. After a meeting, as the two of us returned in a cab to the Upper West Side, we would compare notes and conclude that it had been a day well spent. This is how I like to remember her.

Walter Frisch, Gumm/von Tilzer Professor of Music, Columbia University

A year has passed since our beloved Anne left us.  She was such an essential part of our department and the university, and of our lives, that it is still hard to imagine—and to experience—life at Columbia without her.                                                                   

Louise Chernosky, PhD in musicology; Music Director, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County

Anne helped me feel at home in the department, especially right after I moved to the NYC area. I especially enjoyed our many conversations reminiscing about Rochester. Her help to me in navigating GSAS was tremendous, and she brightened my experience in the Music Department. I know she will be deeply missed.

Will Mason, Assistant Professor of Music, Wheaton College

 Anne was a constant source of warmth and good humor, and a friend and ally to every student. I will remember and treasure her kindness, her jokes, and her compassion. My deepest condolences for your loss.

Matthew D. Morrison, Assistant Professor, New York University/Tisch School

Anne was certainly a treasure to the department, and she was always so kind to me from the first moment I arrived in the Dodge until after I defended my dissertation. This is a great loss for us all, and I imagine that much more so for her family and loved ones.  I hope that we will all carry Anne’s care and commitment in our spirits.

Beau Bothwell, Assistant Professor of Music, Kalamazoo College

I knew her exclusively within the confines of Dodge, but looked forward to every conversation we had, and am truly grateful for her presence, which made that place an infinitely brighter and more welcoming one.  It is amazing to think about how many lives she improved through her intelligence, generosity and warmth. 

Shannon Garland, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Ethnomusicology, UCLA 

Anne was a kind and compassionate person who put great effort into making sure student and faculty needs were met. She bent over backwards through bureaucratic messes to make sure we were taken care of. The numerous times she helped me alone shows just a smidgen of how warm hearted and caring she was. She is deeply missed. 

Andrés García Molina, PhD Student in Ethnomusicology, Columbia University

You are remembered and appreciated for all your loving friendship and work. Your legacy lives with us where we go. Until next time.

Johanna Lopez, Financial Assistant of Columbia University Department of Music, and Anthony Lopez

In loving memory of our beloved, Anne Marie Gefell. We will always cherish the beautiful memories we shared and loved to have you at our wedding! 
Forever remembered, forever missed! 

Gabriela Kumar Sharma, Graduate Program Coordinator, Columbia University Department of Music

Every time I think of Anne, the following words come to my mind. She represented all of them! 

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?"    Hillel the Elder

David Novak, Associate Professor, Ethnomusicology Program, UC Santa Barbara

There were so many things that impressed me about Anne, beyond her deep interpersonal skills and uncanny ability to meet everyone at their level to solve problems, explain things, defuse crises, and fundamentally humanize the often cold structure of graduate school. But beyond her resourcefulness, she had so many other abilities and knowledges that by the end of my years at Columbia, I would find it hard to leave her office because I wanted to know more about her life, or get her thoughts on something - to win her approval, and feel her enthusiastic perspective on whatever we were discussing or thinking about at the time. When my band played at a nearby bar, I would look out and see Anne in the audience, coming to support us. Her intelligence, dedication and irrepressible friendliness really meant a lot to me. Thanks Anne.

Kevin Holt, Ethnomusicology Ph D, 2018, Columbia University

I will always remember Anne Gefell as a person whose advice and humor helped me (and countless others) navigate the intricacies of graduate student life. Her laugh was a familiar and welcoming part of the music department’s soundscape. Her legacy is imprinted on those of us who were lucky enough to know her and her presence is truly, deeply, faithfully missed. 

 Ben Piekut, Associate Professor of Music, Cornell University

I loved talking with Anne when I was a student at Columbia. She gave off a really specific but uncommon energy that I would describe as “hands-off, benevolent guardianship.” In my experience, she was never overly interested in the affairs and turmoils of the students; she was interested to the appropriate degree. She cared about us, and—as one might occasionally surmise from the forceful evidence at the bottom of an email chain or something—she really sprung into action if a paycheck went missing or somebody faced an emergency. When I was back in the department years later, she dropped by the reception and we caught up. It was like I had never left. She told me that she lived for a time near Ithaca. I think it was Spencer, NY, maybe for a few years. Her eyes suggested there was a story there, but I never heard it.

Kevin Fellezs, Assistant Professor of Music, IRAAS/Ethnomusicology, Columbia University

Anne was the first person I met here at Columbia, helping me with my move from California, settling into my office, and generally taking care of things for me, easing my entry into life here in Morningside Heights. She was wonderful - and so helpful! My constant apologies before any request, however, eventually got to her one day. After prefacing yet another request for information about something or other, Anne looked straight at me and said, “Stop saying you’re sorry! You’re just asking us to do our job, so you don’t need to apologize. Remember, you’re now in New York!” Warmheartedly teasing me about my “California ways,” Anne taught me a lot about toughening up for New York. We also shared a love of swimming and talked often about open water swimming. Anne was a one-of-a-kind soul and I will always miss her dearly. 

Alexander K. Rothe, GSAS, PhD 2015, Current Core Lecturer, Columbia University

No matter how busy Anne was, she would always make time to say hi, talk, and offer to help. Anne was the first to welcome me to Columbia in 2007, and I miss her greatly.

Aaron A. Fox, Associate Professor of Music, Ethnomusicology, Director of Center for Ethnomusicology, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Columbia University

I started at Columbia in 1997, at the same time as Anne Gefell started as the Graduate Program Assistant in the Music Department, and worked closely with her especially as I was frequently the Department’s Director of Graduate Studies in the years between 2003 and 2009. Anne moved into the ADA position in 2009, the same year I began my term as Department Chair.  So I worked especially frequently and closely with her throughout her years at Columbia, during which I came to admire her for her tireless work ethic, appreciate her for her deeply ethical personality, and love her for her warmth, compassion, candor, and intelligence. The Department couldn’t have functioned without her, and we were so much better for having her. I was devastated by her sudden loss, which made me realize how much even I had taken for granted her presence and importance for the Department, and left a deep absence in my heart as well.  I miss her terribly, and feel her spirit with us still, and always. 

George E. Lewis FBA, Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music, Area Chair, Composition, Columbia University

Anne Gefell was a wonderful and flexible administrator,  and a sensitive leader for our staff.  She was evidently on great terms with everyone in the financial administration at Columbia, and she could shepherd you through all the thickets of funding and organization, slicing through red tape with her virtual machete.  I would go in to get help with from her on those logistical matters, but we’d end up chatting about her family history and mine.  After I while I would go in to see her just to get advice, or to discuss art, music, literature, everyday life. and the state of the world. I miss her very much.

Daniel Callahan, PhD 2012, Assistant Professor, Boston College

Anne was generous of time and spirit, a wonderful and lively presence in the department, and an administrator par excellence. When I coordinated department colloquia, Anne's efficiency and professionalism was a lifesaver, especially in dealing with the occasional divo of a speaker. When the door to Dodge 621 was closed and locked after hours and I was lucky enough to be behind it, Anne and I would dish about everything from department/university/local/national politics to her beloved Red Harlem Readers. I am deeply grateful for all of the assistance, advice, and laughs she provided throughout my graduate years.

Beth Pratt, Program Coordinator of the Music Performance Program, Columbia University

Missing Anne

I first met Anne over the phone when she called to schedule an interview for the position I now hold in the Music Performance Program. After five minutes, I felt like we had known each other for a long time. We had a connection with upstate New York, summers on the Saint Lawrence river, books and a favorite author, Carson McCullers. I was lucky to get the job and to work with Anne for 5 years. She became a dear friend, mentor, protector, confidant, big sister. Anne was an incredible human being. She was patient and thoughtful and had time for everyone. She was a listener. I would go in to her office with a quick work question and we would always end up chatting…about a book one of us had just read, about a playwright, a film, a favorite restaurant. The topics were endless. Over the years Anne became one of my dearest friends. I loved working with her, going out to dinner with her, talking with her. Before she died we had made plans to visit Nyack and tour Carson McCuller’s home. Sadly, we never made it.

We all miss Anne immeasurably. We all shared beautiful, meaningful relationships with her. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of her, wish I could share some funny tidbit with her, give her the book I just finished for her to read, share a cocktail with her just one more time.  I feel so lucky to have known her. 





Memorial Guestbook




Daniel Callahan (Boston College) “American Document, American Music, American Minstrelsy”

Friday, April 12th 2019
3:00 PM - 622 Dodge Hall

Click here for more information



Past Events

The Red Harlem Readers

Readings on Sunday Afternoons at Suite
New and classic plays, essays, short stories, poems, and songs. 

Sunday, October 28th, 2018 at 3:00pm

An Afternoon of Stories and Song
In Memory of Anne Gefell
with Michele Fulves, Cordis Heard, Joseph Hamel, Ellie Hisama, Johanna Lopez & Kathleen Treat
at Suite, 992 Amsterdam Avenue, NW corner of 109th and Amsterdam

To participate as a writer, director, actor, reader and/or arts administrator, please email us: rhreaders [at]

associates: John Foy, David Katz, Linda Stern