So when I excitedly accepted my cousin’s request to play for her wedding (love theme from the Princess Bride, natch), the first thing I did was contact my old friends at Benning Violins to see if they would lend me a cello for the service. They didn’t just furnish me with a cello and case, but with a family treasure. It was the ONLY cello their mother had ever made; never for sale, only for loan on occasions like these. It had a gentle, warm sound and a reddish satin finish. So first off, I’d like to thank the folks at Benning. They’ve known me since I was an awkward teen, and don’t seem to hold it against me that I am now a fully grown awkward adult. They are among a handful of shops I recommend to folks looking to purchase an instrument, regardless of level or price range. They treat every person who enters their shop with dignity- which is not always the case in the wacky world of string music. Many shops have a sliding scale, where the amount of respect you get is directly in proportion to the number of zeroes following the first digit in your price range. Thank you, Eric and the rest of the good Benning people.
My next stop was Austin, to teach at Lone Star SCOR at Round Top, home of the eponymous music festival. A quick web search turned up Blackerby Violins, who responded to my out-of-the-blue email request with what could only be described as Texan warmth. Absolutely, they would lend me a cello and case…did I need a bow? Anything else? When is convenient for me to pick it up? No, don’t be silly. No charge.
When I arrived, they greeted me like an old friend would and proffered several gorgeous sounding instruments. I ended up choosing another red cello (I am perhaps superstitious) that I would have happily called my own. The trip culminated in a performance of some of Beth Bultman’s string trio works, and my borrowed beauty was nimble and easy under my fingers. It was with a little bit of sadness that I brought her back to Blackerby.
I now feel like I have a new ally in the music community, and I hope my readers in the South consider them when they search for an instrument, recital venue or solid advice about anything string related. What an experience. To Al and all of the good people I encountered at Blackerby Violins, you have my gratitude and enthusiastic endorsement. Can’t wait to see you next time.
Photos: Benning Violins workshop, Blackerby Violins showroom and “Shakespeare Garden” from Round Top as the post featured image.