Tonya Benham’s violin training began when she raised her hand in her fourth grade classroom after the teacher asked who would like to play an instrument. She immediately realized that the cello would add a lot of weight to her daily bus ride so clearly that was the wrong choice. Since she didn’t know what a viola was, the violin was chosen through this brilliant process of elimination. Within a few years time she was playing in five different orchestras with leadership positions and excelling beyond her age.
Ms.Benham continued studying violin in high school, eventually graduated from the High School Academic program of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where she studied with Sarah Johnson. Her summers were spent at distinguished music festivals including Eastern Music Festival, Aspen Music Festival, and Meadowmount School of Music which was recently featured in the book, “The Talent Code”. This allowed her to participate in intensive study with some of the most respected artists and faculty available to a young violinist. She continued to study violin performance and graduated from Baldwin Wallace College with the assistance of numerous music scholarships.
Immediately after graduating from college, she was serendipitously introduced to Bretislav Novotny, first violinist of the Prague String Quartet. She deferred her thoughts of graduate school and moved to Prague, Czech Republic to study privately with Professor Novotny for three years. During this time she received a North Carolina Regional Artist Grant to contribute to the funding of this international endeavor. Ms.Benham has been returning to Prague ever since to study with the man she considers her mentor and a rare musical genius.
Her performance career began after holding the principal second violin and the assistant concertmistress positions in her college orchestra. Her classical concertizing includes solo, chamber music, and symphonic orchestra performances in Ohio, the Carolinas, Colorado, Czech Republic, Rome, Italy, and New York City.
Along with the violin, she also studied dance from a young age. As an adult, she fell in love with salsa dancing and other forms of latin dance. This “hobby,” piqued her interest in the live music she was dancing to. She had an immediate desire to play the music also. She began with latin jazz and salsa, but soon found an undercurrent desire to learn more traditional jazz as well. Since moving to New York City in 2002, she has been fortunate to study improvisation with Christian Howes at his Creative String Workshop. She has also studied privately with Rob Thomas and Eugene Friesen, both professors at Berklee College of Music. She has performed and recorded with a variety of jazz groups over the last ten years.
Ms.Benham has been teaching violin since 1992 and has taught hundreds of students ranging from beginners to professionals. She has taught at many different schools including the Cleveland Music School Settlement and the Prague International School of Music and Fine Arts. Most recently she has taught private violin lessons, group lessons for elementary school, and middle school string classes at the United Nations International School.
She studied group violin instruction with Roberta Guaspari at her Opus 118 String Institute. Ms.Guaspari’s story of teaching has been documented in the major motion picture entitled, “Music of the Heart.” Ms.Benham has also studied with Juilliard professor Shirley Givens and uses her “Adventures in Violinland,” series to teach her youngest students. As a teacher, she pulls from her experience with the most renown pedagogical systems of the 20th century as her own teachers studied directly with Ivan Galamian, Josef Gingold, and Dorothy DeLay. She is a active member of the American String Teacher’s Association and attends their national conferences. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, young daughter, and their cat. She has a private violin studio and works as a freelance violinist.