Walking down the streets of Brussels with his mother at age 6, Samuel Nebyu spotted a picture of a violin.
“I want that,” Nebyu said to his mother.
“Do you know what that is?” she said.
“No, but I still want it.”
And that’s how Nebyu’s love of the instrument began. Now, Nebyu is a first-year violin performance graduate student. He left his home in Belgium at 18 years old to study violin performance at Temple, and he completed his undergraduate degree last May.
In Spring 2017, Nebyu also released “Violin Gems from Black Composers,” an album celebrating African classical composers. Nebyu comes from a Jewish-Hungarian and Ethiopian background and became interested in African classical composers after learning how underrepresented they are in the industry.
The CD was produced with the help of Boyer Dean Robert Stroker. Bethany Brooks, a pianist who studied collaborative piano and chamber music at Temple, was also featured on the album.
The recording took two weeks at the Boyer recording studio in Presser Hall. The design of the album cover resembles the red, black and green Pan-African flag, which is also known as a symbol of the Black Liberation Movement. The entire album took about a year to produce.
Nebyu, whose parents are both musicians, spent the majority of his childhood playing classical music.
He was born in Hungary, but moved to Beijing as a baby, and lived there until he was 5. From ages 6 to 18, Nebyu lived in Belgium, and studied violin at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels. He also was a residential musician for several years at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel, a Belgian school for training young musicians.
Nebyu said he was a “terrible kid” — he once angrily kicked a football and broke all the lights in the room.
“The violin calmed me down,” he said.
In 2012, Nebyu met Eduard Schmieder, the artistic director of strings at the Boyer College of Music and Dance, at a music festival in Belgium.
Schmieder told Nebyu about Temple, and ultimately was the reason he decided to come to the United States for his higher education.
Schmieder also introduced Nebyu to African classical music when he was pursuing his undergraduate degree. Schmieder felt that classical composers of color, particularly those of African descent were underrepresented.
“I thought it would do justice for these great composers if they would be heard,” Schmieder said.
Schmieder told Nebyu he thought a good way to better represent African composers would be through an album.
“There’s this totally different side of music that is just unknown,” Nebyu said. “And people just kind of brush [African composers] to the side, and I thought that bringing it up like this could be very beneficial for many different reasons.”
Nebyu found searching for composers was difficult because of how underrepresented people of color are in the music genre. He hopes that through this album, people will become more interested in classical music and specifically composers of color.
He even admitted to being unaware of this side of classical music until Schmieder introduced him to it.
“I found very interesting composers of color who composed very good compositions for violin,” Schmieder said. “But these pieces were not performed for some reason. I thought it would do justice for these great composers if they would be heard.”
One of these composers, Joseph Bologne, le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was given the nickname “Black Mozart,” and was considered Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s nemesis. Saint-George was an 18th-century French composer of African descent that piqued Schmieder’s interest.
Saint-George and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, an Afro-British composer from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, are just some of the songwriters featured on the album.
Nebyu did research after hearing about Saint-George and Coleridge-Taylor and found many other African composers.
“I tried to get as much repertoire as I could,” Nebyu added.
Schmieder feels that if more people listen to classical music, representation would be better.
“The complexity of it, and the beauty of its appeal to the human soul, it is so great,” Schmieder said. “In my experience when people are introduced to it, they start to love it.”
After he finishes at Temple, Nebyu wants to ultimately travel and perform his music around the world. Last summer, he performed in New York, Los Angeles, Tuscany, Italy, and Salzburg, Austria, while on tour with the iPalpiti Artists International, a nonprofit orchestra made up of early career musicians. Schmieder is the orchestra’s conductor.
“I like to see places, I like to meet people, and that is what I like to do with music,” Nebyu said.