Around Tappan Square
Oberlin's Very Own Violin Shop
by Yvonne Gay Fowler / photos by Al Fuchs
Budding musicians have long sought Oberlin's Conservatory
as a place to
hone their talents, but many students have relied on out-of-town
professionals for repairs and adjustments to their stringed
instruments. The Violin Shop of Oberlin has finally brought
the craftsmanship of violin making back to town.
"At first, professors were waiting to see
the level of my work on their students' instruments," says
owner Seth Truby '96, who opened his College Street shop last
February. "Now the teachers are bringing me their own valuable
violins and bows for maintenance and adjustments. Some of these
musicians had been traveling to New York and Chicago for work;
I'm just two blocks away."
An English major and National Merit Scholar, Truby
had studied the violin since age 4. He chose Oberlin for its
unique musical resources, but actually found the inspiration
for his career in the College of Arts and Sciences, where he
says he was encouraged to incorporate practical skills into
his academic curriculum. So during his senior year, he took
a job as a handyman on a nearby farm, gaining valuable carpentry
experience while helping to build a barn.
Truby graduated that spring and, with his wife,
Angela '96, moved to California and continued carpentry work
for another year. Realizing that he could combine his musical
background and his growing skill in woodworking, he secured
an entry-level position at Ifshin Violins in Berkeley, one of
the largest shops on the West Coast.
In the evenings and on weekends, Truby made his
own tools, and, over the course of two years, built his first
instrument, a viola. He landed an apprenticeship in 1999 under
Oded Kishony, a violin maker trained in Italy and New York,
and refined his knowledge of acoustical systems, varnish-making
techniques, and the traditional methods of classical Italian
"David Boe, my former organ teacher, had been
involved in recruiting violin makers to Oberlin in the '80s when
he was dean of the Conservatory," says Truby. "Needless
to say, he was pleased when I later stopped by on a visit to town
to share news of my career. He graciously arranged a meeting with
Dean Dodson of the Conservatory, who introduced me to many of the
string faculty members and helped get the business off the ground."
"Oberlin is a good setting for this kind
of enterprise," Boe says. "We have a lot of string
students here who need special attention. I may have done the
introductions, but it was Seth's initiative that got the ball
To offset the unsteady income of a new business,
Seth and Angela share a full-time social work position at Oberlin
Community Services. They spent their first six months renovating
their century home and converting an upstairs bedroom into the
full-service violin shop. The instruments that Seth builds there
have been purchased and praised by professional musicians and
"He sold a very fine viola to a Conservatory
student, and word began to spread about his craftsmanship,"
recalls Peter Slowik, professor of viola. "With stringed
instruments, there can be a need for a lot of care and maintenance.
Seth can do all types of work. I have no problem recommending
him to my students."
"Our instruments are our babies--we don't
trust them with just anyone," says Amy Mattson King '93.
A private violin teacher in Elyria and an adjunct teacher at
Lorain County Community College, King says she was thrilled
when she learned that a violin repair shop would be opening
up close to home. Not only is she a loyal client, but her students
keep Seth busy as well.
"He's a fellow alumnus, and that makes me
trust him," King says. "He has a very fine ear and
can hear the slightest difference in sound. I think that's why
he's so good, and that's why he's my new violin guy. I don't
trust anyone else."