Nokuthula Ngwenyama ’94
Within what would become the Elizabeth Mandell Music Institute (EMMI), Thula found a home.
At the age of 4, Nokuthula “Thula” Ngwenyama began studying piano and immediately knew she would become a musician. That unswerving determination led her to Crossroads and, from there, to concert halls and stages worldwide.
Thula, who added violin to her repertoire at age 6, had attended Crossroads music events while in elementary school. “They were inspiring,” recalls Thula, now a renowned solo violist and a recording artist with EDI Records.
At age 12, two momentous things happened. Thula began playing the viola, and she arrived at Crossroads for seventh grade. Within what would become the Elizabeth Mandell Music Institute (EMMI), Thula found a home. She appreciated the classical conservatory’s “hard-core training” and studied counterpoint with legendary composer and teacher Herbert Zipper. “It doesn’t get better than that at any level of education,” says Thula.
At 16, Thula won the Primrose International Viola Competition, and a few months later won the Young Concert Artists International Competition. She departed Crossroads before graduating—“It was difficult to leave,” she says—for the Curtis School of Music in Philadelphia. Soon after, she received the Avery Fisher Career Grant.
Thula, who has been called “one of the great viola players in the world,” has performed throughout the U.S. and across four continents, from the White House to the Louvre to “Saturday Night Live.” Now, she’s devoting much of her time to a “huge passion,” composing. Among her recent works are world-premiere compositions of “Sonora Storm” for solo viola/orchestra and “Climbing to Dragon’s Mountain” for violin quartet. She’s also composing for a children’s string ensemble in her home base of Phoenix.
Following Curtis, Thula attended the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris as a Fulbright Scholar and, fascinated by world religions, earned a master’s in theological studies at Harvard University. She’s been a visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame and Indiana University.
She loved Crossroads’ rare ability to combine high standards with creativity and a generous spirit. The School helped teach her a philosophy that she feels is true in both life and music: You have to know all the rules so you know which ones you can break.