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Njeri Grevious

Violinist Njeri Grevious

17 YEAR OLD Njeri Kamilah Grevious is a high school senior at the Boston University Academy currently studying violin with Victor Romanul.

Njeri took time out of her busy schedule to answer questions about her musical life.

JSI: At what age did you begin the violin?
Njeri Kamilah: I began at age seven.

Do you play other instruments?
I also play viola, which I just started last year. My first instrument was the piano. I started piano at age 4, studying under Maya Gurevich. Unfortunately, I couldn t continue piano lessons for financial reasons after the age of 12.

You are part of a trio with your siblings called the Grevious Trio. Tell us more about that.
We call ourselves the Mahewa Trio as well. One of the meanings of the Swahili word mahewa  is music.  My thirteen-year-old sister Njioma plays violin and viola, and my fifteen-year-old brother Nkosi plays cello. We ve played as a family trio in more than fifty community service concerts in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Georgia, and New Jersey.

You are involved with Project STEP and were awarded the Campbell Scholarship for 2012 2013, which goes to exceptionally dedicated music students who have had outstanding community involvement.
I appreciate the honor, as I have found happiness in sharing music with kids and senior citizens who might not otherwise get the chance to experience live classical music. With the Mahewa Trio, and through Project STEP, Winsor Music, and the Lexington Chamber Music Center, I have performed in nursing homes, assisted living residences, and at children s centers, including events with the Lexington Symphony and the Boston Civic Symphony.

You are also involved with the chamber group Winsor Music, founded by Boston oboist Peggy Pearson, and have recently been appointed as the future leader of its nonprofit outreach program.
The phenomenal oboist Peggy Pearson has been a mentor and teacher to me for many years. Thanks to her and Winsor Music s support of scholarship assistance for Project STEP students, I also have been able to attend music festivals and workshops. It is a huge honor that she has chosen me as the future leader of the outreach program, which raises money to send black and Latino kids to summer music festivals and also brings chamber music to people who don t have opportunities to hear it performed live.

Do you want to pursue music professionally?
I envision myself as a chamber musician and possibly an orchestra player in the future. I also dream of establishing a chamber ensemble that performs worldwide, raising money to provide math instruction to children in Africa, aswell as to black and Latino children in the Americas.

What summer festivals have you attended?
The Boston University Tanglewood Institute, Kinhaven Music School, Summertrios Chamber Music Workshop, Sphinx Performance Academy, and Apple Hill Summer Chamber Music Workshop.

Do you listen to many recordings of music and violinists?
Almost every day, I listen to recordings of orchestral, chamber, or solo works. I don t always listen to violinists, I also like listening to pianists, cellists, cello ensembles, and wind ensembles.

Which musicians do you admire most?
Besides my current violin teacher, I admire Itzhak Perlman, Yehudi Menuhin, Silvia Marcovici, Yo-Yo Ma, Peggy Pearson, and Rafael Popper-Keizer. I also admire the numerous coaches I ve worked with, including my first violin teacher Farhoud Moshfegh, Randy Hiller, Robbie Merfeld, John Ziarko, Lynn Chang, Mark Berger, Mariana Green-Hill, and Sophie Vilker.
I admire these players because they have a great understanding of how they interact with their instrument and how their instrument interacts with others in a group, whether it s a concerto or in a chamber group or large ensemble. It is wonderful to be able to play a piece with great expression and technique. But it is another thing entirely to be able to really understand the piece s meaning, internalize it and personalize it, and then allow yourself to be a medium through which that meaning can be conveyed to the audience. I strive to become that type of player every time I am in the practice room, or in rehearsal, or in a lesson, but especially when I am on stage because that it is when it really counts and when I have time to show the audience what I ve got.

Do you have a favorite composer?
My favorite composer is Dmitri Shostakovich. I had the most extraordinary experience playing his Fifth Symphony with the NEC Youth Philharmonic Orchestra last year, and this past summer I played his famous 8th String Quartet. Every composer has his other unique style and language, and I am particularly attracted to Shostakovich s style; it just seems so clear to me. He lived an extra-ordinary life. If I could travel back in time, I would whisk myself away to the 1937 Leningrad premiere of his Fifth Symphony. I would sit right next to Shosty and experience his music the way he wanted it to be experienced right in the midst of the political tension!

Do you have a favorite violinist? Who have you heard perform live?
When I attended BUTI in the summer of 2011, I went to see a BSO performance of the Brahms Violin concerto in D major. The soloist was one I had never heard before, but I was blown away by her performance. Her name is Arabella Steinbacher. Her technique is incredible, but what I like most about her is her crisp command of her instrument. I ve heard Joshua Bell, Yo-Yo Ma, Arabella Steinbacher, Sarah Chang, Stephan Jackiw, George Li, Itzak Perlman, among others perform live.

What solo pieces are you currently working on?
I am working on Brahms Piano and Violin Sonata in D minor, Vieuxtemps Violin Concerto in A minor, Bach Partita No.1 Allemande and a ballade for violin and piano by Samuel Coleridge Taylor. I am excited about these pieces.

Do you enjoy a particular style of music more than another, say Romantic concertos, or Baroque music, or Classical era works?
I don t have a preference for particular style of music. I appreciate a piece for what it is in context of its style not because of its style. But I do prefer pieces in minor keys over major keys (hence my Vieuxtemps Concerto in A minor, Bach Partita in B minor, Coleridge-Taylor Ballade in C minor and Brahms in D minor)! I am not sure why, but I just love the sound of a nice minor piece.

Have you taught violin to others?
I have not taught violin to others, but I have tutored music theory before. One of the things I love to do is help young aspiring musicians learn music theory. Currently, I am tutoring the cutest and smartest kids I know on Saturdays at Project STEP! I really believe in giving back. After all, it has been through the support of Project STEP since I was 7 years old that I have been fortunate to have been able to study violin, perform in orchestras and take music theory classes on at NEC Preparatory School. I am the founder and director of Music Haven, which is a free weekly music theory tutoring service. Though I have tutored teens since middle school, I am really enjoying working with even younger kids.

What violin and bow do you play?
I play a Scott Brown violin that I purchased at Johnson Strings, and I currently use Codabow Diamond GX. I love my violin, it has a clear and ebullient sound and it has great resonance on the lower strings. Originally, I used a carbon fiber bow only at summer workshops because often I would be playing and practicing outside and I didn t want to put my wood bow at any risk (humidity and temperature). But then I found that I liked using the carbon fiber bow because of its weight. The bow is heavier than my wood bow, and I find that because of its weight I am able to use that to my advantage for more bow control. The weight also enables me to draw a nice rich sound out of a string without applying too much pressure. In the future though, I hope to upgrade my current wood bow to one that would work even better with my violin.

Do you enjoy practicing?
In truth, each time I start to practice, I m not that excited. But as my session develops, I do become more engrossed in attentively critiquing and observing my sound and technique. Then my practice becomes more interesting.

Do you have other interests besides music?
Math offers a never-ending fascination and challenge: there are always different ways to look at every problem. Another of my interests now is studying the interaction between music and auditory neuroscience. I am fascinated by questions such as how does the brain process pitch?  and why do perfect fourths sound dissonant to us even though its inverse sounds consonant?  As an intern at the Boston University Auditory Neuroscience Lab, I ve worked on a study on a pitch processing disorder called amusia. Now, I am researching the effect of short-term music training on the young adult brainstem plasticity for my senior thesis project.
I also study the Indian classical dance forms of Bharatanatayam and Kuchipudi at the Triveni School of Dance. I like to express myself through violin and dance!

Do you have any upcoming performances?
In April, I will perform with the Project STEP Honors Quartet. I also look forward to playing for Project STEP s 30th anniversary celebration on June 2. In May, I m performing as a member of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra at Symphony Hall, and will also give my senior recital.

What are your summer plans?
I will attend the Summertrios camp again, then depart for a tour with the BPYO to the Netherlands for almost two weeks! When I return, I plan to volunteer for Winsor Music, prepare for college at Yale, practice, and relax.

Is there anything else you d like to share with our readers?
I would like to thank everyone who has helped me along the way. And, thanks to Johnson String for sharing my story!

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