Several studies conducted over the past decade show a disproportionate rate of BIPOC musicians in orchestras, on the conductors podium, in arts administration, and nearly all other areas of the classical music world.
Fresh out of completing a Master of Music degree in Violin Performance at The Ohio State University, I’m excited to introduce you all to Dayton, Ohio native Nia Dewberry who continues to make ripples in the classical music world as an artist of color.
For the past year, Nia has taught violin at our Lewis Center location, as well as at Ohio State and around Columbus. When not teaching, she has been seen performing on stage in orchestras, has taught and mentored students of diverse backgrounds across the city, and has been a fierce advocate for empowering youth of color to pursue studying classical music.
Fewer than three percent of U.S. orchestral musicians are black.
This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Nia to ask her about her experiences as a Black classical musician and educator.
You just finished up your Masters program at Ohio State, correct? How was that experience, and what’s next for you?
Nia: It was a great experience and I had a lot of opportunities, and I even got a new violin through my professor! I met a lot of great people and got to see a lot of Columbus. Pre-Covid I was working three jobs, all music related. Originally I’d taken this year off to teach and do orchestral work, but because of Covid both have been very slim. I’ll also be taking time this year to prepare for my Doctoral auditions at OSU, CIM, and CCM.
How did you get your start playing violin? Were there any musicians or experiences that influenced your decision to play the instrument? When did you know or make the decision to study violin at the collegiate level?
Nia: I started at age 11 and originally played clarinet, and I was like, “This is so boring and I don’t know how to work this thing.” and a lot of my friends played violin, so I decided to give it a try and really liked it. My teacher Mrs. Kopmar at the Stivers School for the Arts inspired me to want to be a teacher and she taught me violin from age 11 to 18. The school in general inspired me – we had orchestra rehearsals daily, we participated in competitions and OMEA, it was a really great experience. I realized my Senior year that I wanted to pursue a degree in music.
Could you tell me about your favorite experience performing? What made that moment so special?
Nia: My favorite was probably my Senior recital for my undergraduate program. All my friends and family were there as well as a lot of people from my class were present. I got to do an entire hour recital and played two Bach pieces, and it was really special. In my Masters recital, I played from memory a Bach Chaconne which I didn’t think I’d be able to memorize within one year, but I did it! That was a really proud moment and very special to me.
In addition to performing, you also teach violin here at the studio! What are a few of your favorite things about teaching violin to students?
Nia: I love how excited students get when they learn something new, or when a concept clicks and they realize they’ve figured something out. With kids, you know they want to play, but with adult students especially know that they want to play as they’re taking time out of their day to drive to the studio to learn with you. I just really enjoy all the ah-hah moments and sharing them with my students.
As a Black classical musician and teacher, could you tell me about your experience in your professional career thus far? As a Black business owner and performer myself, I’ve been met with many awkward exchanges when I explain what I do for a living. Have you encountered any such experiences, and if so, how have you gone about addressing them?
Nia: I’ve thankfully had no negative experiences thus far, but as a Black classical musician it’s really obvious that there aren’t that many Black and brown youth out there studying music, so I’ve made it a mission of mine to get more kids involved in classical music.
Yes, so for awkward experiences, I’ve definitely had weird moments when I explain to others that I perform and teach classical music. Some people don’t understand why I’m involved in classical music when it’s not necessarily associated with Black culture.
Are there any words of encouragement you have for young aspiring musicians of color, or anything you’d like to share with our audience of readers?
Nia: Do not give up. Do not let your peers tell you not to do classical music in general, because they think it isn’t cool or culturally acceptable. I feel that every student deserves the opportunity no matter what their economic background. Just be great, don’t let anybody tell you NOT to do anything because of who you are or what you look like.
I’m ecstatic to have Nia with us here in Lewis Center, and have had the privilege of seeing both her and her students perform. Get started learning violin with Nia today!