Where I work: Texas Violin Shop

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If you stop by the Texas Violin Shop, you’ll likely find me at the workbench, making new instruments and restoring old ones. My husband and business partner, Estefan, will probably test instruments, playing everything from classical violin to old fiddle. You’ll see violins in various stages of completion, with near-complete violins hanging by their scrollwork from a stand, waiting to be varnished and installed. Among a pile of wood shavings on the workshop floor, you might find our two workshop dogs, Amati and Lucy. When we are not adjusting the pitch of the instruments, classical music plays in the background and the sound of scratching wood fills the room.

For our family, the Texas Violin Shop is a longtime dream that recently came true.

Estefan grew up in Patchogue, New York, and had a passion for music from an early age, listening to artists like Tony Bennett, Michael Bublé and Josh Groban. At 10, he began to play the cello and quickly excelled. By the time he was in 7th grade, Estefan knew he wanted to pursue a career in music education.

Estefan was the first in his family to be classically trained in music, and while finishing his music studies, Estefan fell in love with the business of bowed string instruments. “The history of every antique instrument is unique in its own way, and I love having a tangible piece of history,” he said. As for contemporary instruments, he said they “have their own story to create, and we’re just the first chapter.”

I grew up 30 miles east of New York in a town called Melville. My dad worked for General Electric as a technician and I spent a lot of time in his shop watching him fix things. I found it amazing how he could take something old and broken and make it look brand new. This is where I found the passion to work with my hands.

When I was 10, I started playing the cello. At 15, I began training as a workshop assistant for The Long Island Violin Shop in Huntington, New York, under the guidance and direction of American luthier Charles Rufino and Hungarian luthier Endre Fischer. With the skills I learned, I often repaired instruments at school for my teacher and my peers. Seeing the excited faces of the students as I adjusted their instruments was incredibly rewarding. It was especially rewarding to take an old family heirloom that had sat for decades and restore it to its former glory.

While working for The Long Island Violin Shop, I continued my studies as a violin maker and violin maker with other master violin makers at Oberlin College, the University of New Hampshire Institute of Violin Craftsmanship and at Mohr and Mohr Bows. I discovered that my passion for bowed string instruments and my talent for woodworking went hand in hand with lutherie, bow making and restorations.

Samantha Cortez jams a tool designed to split a violin in half before going to improve its sound quality. Credit: Scott Ball/San Antonio Report

Estefan began his career at the Long Island Violin Shop in 2013 as an educational coordinator. He quickly made a name for himself as a teacher and violin dealer. As a top salesman, he coordinated instrument exhibits at conservatories, universities, and orchestras throughout New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. We often worked together to provide educational workshops, repairs and instrument screenings for budding performers, students and music teachers.

We fell in love working together and decided to start our own journey.

With my acceptance letter from the Violin Making School of America in hand, we packed our bags and moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. While in Utah, we worked for Summerhays Music and ran the largest professional string department in the state of Utah. During the years we lived in Utah, we took it upon ourselves to seek professional development to gain experience in identifying instruments and selling bowed string instruments.

Violins ready to be sold hang in the Texas Violin Shop where Estefan and Samantha Cortez live.
Violins ready to be sold hang in the Texas Violin Shop where Samantha and Estefan Cortez live. Credit: Scott Ball/San Antonio Report

After already a long, fun and exciting journey of dating and working together, we eloped to Oahu, Hawaii to have a private beach wedding and start a new chapter in our lives together.

Estefan and I have always dreamed of opening a violin store together. We wanted to create a pleasant environment to work surrounded by history, art and music. We have explored many different areas and found that research is only part of the equation. We went to San Antonio to check it out for ourselves and fell in love with the culture, the weather and most of all the people. We love that there is a sense of community and that the music community has been so welcoming to us moving to this beautiful city.

In July 2021, we created the Texas Violin Shop to share our expertise with our community. We offer sales, rentals, restorations, courses and educational workshops for violin, viola, cello and double bass. It is also important for us to act as a resource to support music teachers, public and private schools, and local symphony and community orchestras.

Our mission is to provide our community with the education and means necessary to achieve a player’s musical goals. One of the ways to do this is to offer educational workshops for music teachers and students. Our most popular workshop is an instrument maintenance workshop. We have made different levels of this workshop for music educators getting professional development, college students pursuing a music degree, and high and elementary schools.

We are often taken aside by professionals and teachers who have been playing for decades to thank us for teaching them new tips and tricks. Another reason I love doing these workshops is to show that there is success to be had in a male dominated field. It’s not common to find a female luthier (maker of stringed instruments), and the number of women working in this field has grown tremendously since I started at 15.

As we approach our store’s one year anniversary, we are so grateful for the warm support of the professional stringing community in San Antonio. As a new business, one of the main rules is to never stop promoting. We have worked very hard to promote our small family business and have found that word of mouth is the most powerful advertisement. To date, a majority of our customers come from a recommendation from a friend or colleague who had a great experience in our shop.

As our business grows, we’re excited to continue building a community of gamers around us. In the future, we plan to offer masterclasses, performances, a scholarship fund for our employees and students on the road to a musical career, and much more to give back to our community what they gave us.