From Long Island to Louisiana, violin shops aren’t just for selling instruments
For some violin shop owners, minding the store means much more than doing repairs and selling instruments and accessories.

Al Marabella, owner of Blackerby Violin Shop in Austin, Texas,  maintains an 80-seat performance hall adjacent to the store where local performers and students give informal concerts.

The Violin Shop in Nashville, Tennessee, hosts local and touring performers in its main showroom, owner Fred Carpenter says. Carriage House Violins in Newton, Massachusetts, home of the Boston Cello Society, has a 50-seat concert hall and an open workshop where you can watch artisan technicians repairing instruments. And Sarah Gray, a restorer in Omaha, Nebraska, organizes the Master Class Talks Annual Series Inc., an educational outreach program featuring prominent makers and other experts as speakers. While these and other shop owners rent, sell, and repair instruments as their main line of business, organizing and hosting events is a way to fulfill other goals of educating and creating a gathering place for the musical community.

“I felt strongly that I didn’t want to be only a violin hospital or garage,” says Charles Rufino, owner of the Long Island Violin Shop in Huntington, New York, which organizes its String Poet Studio Series featuring poetry readings paired with live music.  “I wanted a center for arts and a place of sharing. People come in with instruments and you form bonds with customers and want the opportunity to do more,” he says.

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© Melissa Ciano

Events can be good for business, too. Although the events themselves don’t make much money and, indeed, sometimes barely break even, they help to spread the word about the shop and create positive feelings about the business.

“It’s hard to measure the value of goodwill,” Marabella says. Additionally, a real-world experience like a concert or seminar is a good way for shops to compete against online sellers who can efficiently ship rosin and strings to your doorstep but can’t offer a face-to-face experience with a performer or lecturer. A brick-and-mortar performance space is “a hedge against the Internet sellers” that can’t be part of the community, he adds.

Blackerby Violin Shop’s hall is frequently used by local string teachers for their students’ recitals and group lessons; the space is a popular venue for countless Book I recitals and group lessons by Suzuki students. Local chamber groups, such as the Artisan Quartet, also perform there.

Students have used the space to make recordings for auditions. Marabella charges hourly rates of $75 for a teacher’s studio recital and $60 for other types of performances. “Part of the fun of owning a music shop and being a musician is gathering and playing, so we wanted to provide space for that,” he says.

As part of the downtown merchants association’s monthly ArtWalk event, when businesses host open-houses, SOLA Violins in Lafayette, Louisiana, lures customers and browsers with refreshments and live performances. Owner Anya Burgess in December hosted a cohort of 20 Suzuki students, complete with Christmas lights strung over their music stands. The students played on the sidewalk just outside her shop, which is located in a historic hotel. “It wowed a lot of people,” she says.

Live music is a draw and “a wonderful reason for people to walk into the shop,” Burgess says. “It also broadens the range of people who come in.” Burgess, whose shop has been open since only late 2014, is planning future events independent of ArtWalk, particularly performances that showcase both classical and Cajun music.

“My goal is to draw various musical communities together, both classical and indigenous cultures,” she says. “I’d like to feature them both. It’s fun to think about the possibility of bringing people together.”

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In Nashville, the Violin Shop, likewise, presents a range of performers from classical to bluegrass. Located in a restored house, the shop holds events in its main showroom, which has ten-foot ceilings and hardwood floors. While attendance is strong, the performances are “not a moneymaker,” says owner Fred Carpenter, noting that the store takes about 10 percent of contributions at the door to cover the cost of refreshments and gives the rest to the performer. The shop presents both musicians active on the Nashville music scene as well as players coming through town on tour. The shop also partners with neighboring beer-tasting room Craft Brewed to put on “fiddle tastings,” events that combine beer and live music.

Some events expand beyond performances. Targeting students, the Long Island Violin Shop has arranged in-store seminars showing how to tune an instrument and how to maintain it; another seminar discussed the ergonomics of playing the violin and viola. More recently, the shop has begun presenting the String Poet series, organized largely by Rufino’s daughter, the poet Annabelle Moseley. One past event in the series featured a performance by cellist Suzanne Mueller of  “The Autumn Way,” composed by Judith Shatin, and a reading of the Richard Meyer poem of the same name that inspired the piece. Another program titled “An Evening in Ireland” showcased poets Micheal O’Siadhail and Gladys Henderson and fiddler Calum Pasqua.

Gray, owner of Sarah E. Gray Restoration, every year hosts a Technology Product Review event that showcases a particular item. Attendees receive dinner and cocktails and are encouraged to bring their instruments to try and test products. Most recently, Gray hosted an “Endpin Coming Out Party” to promote the Tone Acoustics Endpin, a brass-alloy endpin designed by Tom DeVuono to enhance the acoustical output of cellos and double basses. Additionally, Gray has created a standalone nonprofit education-outreach organization that promotes the Master Class Talks series, which emphasizes scientific research related to the strings field. In late 2014, Master Class Talks presented luthier Marilyn Wallin, who spoke about rare instruments in a presentation titled, Through the Eyes of the Maker: Instrument Identification Understanding and Interpreting. Master Class Talks in previous years featured Fan-Chia Tao, director of research and development at string manufacturer D’Addario & Co., bow restorer Jerry Pasewicz, who discussed bow acoustics and restoration, and luthier James N. McKean, who discussed instrument acoustics.

“I’ll try to bring in keynote speakers who have contributed greatly to our field,” says Gray, who seeks sponsorships and donations for the non-profit organization to cover costs so that attendees can come to the event free of charge. Recent talks have had healthy attendance, each attracting up to 90 professionals, she says.

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