A Kaleidoscope of Talent

One of the highlights of the 2012 SAA Conference was the Kaleidoscope Concert.

Just as the name suggests, the concert provided a colorful and diverse display of children of various ages, on a variety of instruments, and representing various stages of development. The one thing they all exhibited was an undeniable level of excellence. This showcase exemplified the magic of Suzuki Education. In these children, one can see that the potential that exists in every child has been nurtured to abundant ability.

The polished and focused performances of the children were punctuated by jovial interviews by Bill McGlaughlin, well-known host of Peabody Award winning St. Paul Sunday and Exploring Music. The answers to his inquiries revealed the beautiful hearts within these children that allow them to express themselves and their music with such sensitivity.

Robertson’s Connection with SAA

The Kaleidoscope Concert was initially envisioned as a celebration of the SAA’s fortieth anniversary. The vision was to create an event that would elucidate some of the SAA’s core values—excellence, character, and the potential for every child to reach a high level of ability. It is no wonder that Robertson and Sons chose to sponsor this particular event, as they subscribe to these same types of values in their violin shop. Robertson’s revolves around family and has been built on a strong tradition of serving the music community with integrity and excellence. They provide instruments and services to the entire spectrum of string musicians, including collectors, performers, educators, and students of all levels. There are many specialists in the shop who, over the years, have honed their particular skills to a very high level, yet they collaborate to serve a clientele that spans the world over.

Robertson and Sons Violin Shop has long been a friend to the SAA, having made numerous contributions to the organization. Don Robertson has also committed his time and his perspective to the SAA by serving on its Board of Directors. Over the years, Don has witnessed an exponential increase in the demand for smaller sized stringed instruments. He attributes this growth directly to the success of Suzuki Education and to the burgeoning recognition of its potential to improve one’s quality of life. Says Don, “Suzuki Education has had a huge impact on the violin industry in this country and around the world.” He estimates that 75% of his rental business is in fractional instruments and he expects that number to keep rising. He also believes that without the leadership of the SAA to nurture the growth of the Suzuki Method, the stringed instrument industry and music education would be suffering.

Getting Started

Don Robertson, proprietor of Robertson and Sons Violin Shop, moved to Albuquerque, NM, in 1965 to teach in the public schools. Trained as a cellist, Don began moonlighting in a local music store re-hairing bows and making repairs to student instruments. He took on the challenge of educating himself in stringed instrument repair by traveling across the country to attend workshops during the summers. In 1969, Don set up a small repair business in his garage, honing his skills to serve an ever-increasing clientele. Quickly outgrowing this tiny space, in 1971 Don moved his business to a quaint little shop near the University of New Mexico and was joined shortly thereafter by his new bride, violinist Marie. Soon thereafter, they were able to add instrument sales to the services they provided. Over the years, as they upgraded their inventory, they began to serve a more and more professional clientele. When the Robertson’s outgrew this shop in 1995, they designed a facility with a vision for the future. It includes climate controlled rooms housing instruments in every price range, a recital hall, workshops for the craftsmen who make, maintain and restore instruments, a shipping room, a conference room, and several teaching studios.

All in the Family

When you walk in the front door of Robertson and Sons Violin Shop, you sense the feeling of family. Several of the employees actually are related by blood, including three of the four Robertson sons. The rest of the crew have enjoyed a lengthy tenure in Robertson’s employ and have come to feel like part of the family. The atmosphere is one of respect—for each other, for the people they serve, for music, and for the work that they perform. The fact that the rooms are separated by sound-proof glass rather than walls speaks to the interdependence and camaraderie among them, even as each attends to his/her own tasks.

Let’s meet the people who make Robertson and Sons so successful. Sharing the workshops are eldest son, Brian Robertson; youngest son, Justin Robertson; and nephew, Andy Brasher. Others who are family by choice rather than birth include Chris Pederson, Chris Savino, and Michael Brinegar. Brian Robertson is the bow guru. As a 27 year veteran of the shop, he re-hairs and restores bows with the practiced hand of an artisan. Yes, he lives and breathes rosin! Justin Robertson is a violist and has been intrigued with fixing things since he was very young. It seems only natural that he would become fascinated with the meticulous business of instrument restoration. He has an incredible eye for detail and considers himself a servant to the instrument. He’s also the photographer in the family and takes pictures of the fine instruments that pass through the shop. Andy Brasher is in charge of rental instruments. He makes sure that each instrument is properly set up and in excellent condition before it leaves the shop. Chris Pederson, a violinist, is in instrument production. He starts with white instruments imported from places such as the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and China, and hand finishes them to produce instruments of very high quality. He is the varnish expert in the shop and everyone consults Chris regarding their varnishing projects. Chris Savino has gained wide recognition as an instrument maker, often working on consignment. In fact, Matthew Ho, one of the Kaleidoscope Concert performers played on a Savino violin generously loaned by Robertson’s for the event. Michael Brinegar, Oberlin trained cellist and 17 year veteran of the New Orleans Symphony, is dedicated to instrument repair and restoration and has been with Robertson’s for 20 years.

Behind the desks are the people who interface with the customers and keep the business humming. You might find Anna, Allison, or Debbie answering phones, taking orders, ringing up sales, mailing invoices, or changing strings. And Marie Robertson does all that and keeps the store stocked with music and other supplies. Trained as a violinist and music educator, Marie has always been deeply involved as a performer and with children’s music education in her community. As a participant in the Albuquerque Youth Orchestras as a student, Marie has continued to commit her energies to that organization as a conductor of one of the orchestras.

Angelo De Jesus is the manager of the shipping room. If you’ve received an instrument or other items from Robertson’s, you can be sure it was packed by the deft and careful hands of Angelo. There is never a lull in his work, but that’s one of the things he likes about his job.

As you enter the front door of Robertson’s you might be greeted by either Aaron Robertson, number three son, or Andrew Wilson. If you’ve been there before, you’ll probably be recognized and called by name. For Aaron and Andrew there is no greater pleasure than to find the instrument that will perfectly suit each customer’s needs. Aaron is the bassist in the family and graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music. Andrew attended Oberlin Conservatory and was professor of violin at Sam Houston State University for several years. They are both highly trained musicians and have intimate knowledge of all of the instruments in the shop. Because of the shop’s incredible inventory, there is never a problem finding an appropriate instrument. The difficulty lies in narrowing the choices down to just one winner. But never fear—even if you were to change your mind, Robertson’s will stand by their merchandise and will always give you a full trade in on any instrument purchased from their shop. Robertson customers hail from all over the world so they will happily send instruments for you to try on approval. Or you can visit the shop and try out instruments in the on-site recital hall.

And finally, there’s Don Robertson himself. He does it all. You might find him helping someone select an instrument or in the workshop adjusting an instrument. And if the weather is warm, you might occasionally catch him on the golf course! He is a man dedicated to his family, to music, and to the stringed vehicles of that medium.

A Round of Applause

The SAA is extremely grateful for Robertson’s generous sponsorship of the Kaleidoscope Concert. We are proud to join with them in the pursuit of excellent music education the world over. This sponsorship has allowed the grand vision of the Kaleidoscope Concert to come to fruition at the 2012 Conference and we thank Robertson’s for their ongoing support of the SAA and its endeavors.