SAN ANTONIO — Samuel Igbo is good at a lot of things. The Boerne High School teen is an honor student, a member of several school organizations, a karate blackbelt, a track athlete, a short story animator, and a graphic designer.
When it comes to the violin, Samuel surpasses all expectations.
"It just really, like, resonates with me so much," he said.
The 15-year-old says he started playing the violin a little over three years ago after getting a nudge from "the Almighty."
"The Lord actually came to me like in a dream and said he wants me to play for His people," he recalled.
He carried the divine revelation to his mother, Queen. She fended off his unwavering requests for a violin as long she could.
"So, I said, 'Ok, let's go and rent one,'" Igbo said. "In my mind, I just thought, 'Ok, when the summer is over, he'll let go, and I'll just return it.'"
Things did not go as planned. Samuel, without the help of an instructor, started to learn to play the violin. He watched YouTube videos repeatedly for direction, musical posture, and all things violin.
"I didn't even know what a violin was at that time," he said.
According to Samuel, he was awful in the beginning but loved every squeaky sound. Suddenly, he developed a natural connection with the instrument.
His mother remembered going to tell her oldest son to turn down the music from YouTube practices. To her surprise, the music was no video. It was her son.
"I don't know much about music, but I knew that sound was professional," she said. "I knew at that moment something was beginning to unfold."
Queen said she played classical music for her son and his twin, Michael Jr., during her pregnancy. She even recalls her son knowing how to read the words "classical music" on the CD she played before he knew his ABCs. Yet the wife and mother of three knew this was beyond the contribution of her and husband, Michael Sr.
"I'm just a bystander like you and watching God use a kid, " she said. "It's just God's way of saying, 'I can do all things.'"
Samuel quickly progressed as he continued to teach himself for nearly two years. He also wondered about the godly call.
"Why is God using me for this?" he said. "God could have used me in any other capacity."
The virtuoso's gift started to make room. Samuel began to win awards and catch the ear of experts who were shocked.
His father recalls taking him to a music teacher, who he said wept at his son's playing.
Samuel is attracted to bluegrass music, fiddling, some pop music, and Christian songs.
"Sometimes when I'm, like having a rough day, or I don't know what to do," he said. "I just play, like, a Christian song on my violin, just as a reminder that like the Lord is still there and he's watching over me."
He also loves classical music. Samuel said he played a video from world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman playing a Tchaikovsky violin concerto repeatedly.
"That particular concerto, to me, said so much that words can't really describe," he said.
Samuel did get professional lessons, after all. He still practices at home quite a bit. His father said there are mornings Samuel is playing the violin at 3 am.
He practices in an upstairs bathroom.
"That's like my primary practice room," he said.
The teen said he chose the lavatory to watch himself play in the mirror to perfect his performance. He also prefers the room's acoustics. His father said they are working on soundproofing another area for his young prodigy.
It has not stopped Samuel from excelling. He got chosen by the National Youth Orchestra to come for a month-long workshop in New York, culminating with a performance in Carnegie Hall.
The achievement is almost hard to believe in a three-year journey. Most players started at a young age and can only dream to make it to the seat where Samuel sat.
His accolades have also met a few challenges. Samuel's mother said offenders from San Antonio have essentially said her son's ethnicity disqualifies his gift.
"I've told him maybe this is your fight," she said. "Maybe that's why God is giving you the gift to demystify the belief that you have to be of European descent to be good in classical music. No, it's a gift."
Samuel is choosing not to talk about it. Instead, he's focused on his journey of excellence and playing in spaces where some don't think he belongs.
"I believe that representation is really, really important," he said.