. . . About . . .

Here's the place to find out more than you ever wanted to know about me. More important, I think, is that you can learn a bit about my two great teachers, Karl Roy and the late Carleen M. Hutchins. Please feel free to look at a partial list of my satisfied clients; I'd love to have you join this distinguished group.

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. . . Laboring in the Dungeon. . .

I came late to the profession, having begun my career as a bassist and later as a high school orchestra director. I was thrown into violin work in the early 1970s when I needed to repair school instruments to keep my students playing. I ran a part-time shop in the evenings, on weekends, and during school vacations. I left public school work in 1980 and continued increasing my skills in repair and restoration. I didn't start making violins professionally until I was in my forties, and then I was only able to do it part-time.

The focus of my work these days is creating new instruments, including the standard violin, viola, and cello as well as all instruments of the new violin family, including the basses. I've also designed a line of ergonomic violas to help ease the strain of playing these larger instruments. It's sometimes hard to believe I've been doing this kind of work for well over 40 years. I guess it must agree with me!

Last updated: May 6, 2017

. . . Karl Roy. . .

Karl Roy gluing liners in a violin

I began my formal training in the craft of lutherie under Karl Roy at the University of New Hampshire in the early 1970s. Karl came to the US while he was the Director of the State School for Violin Making in Bavaria, Germany. Without his patience, masterful teaching skills, and unwavering confidence that I really had some abilities hidden in me somewhere, I'd still be repairing plywood basses.

I feel lucky to have experienced, even in a truncated and interrupted way, the older method of education that existed between a master and his apprentices. Karl taught me much, but the lesson I valued most was how he trained me to be observant and to notice little things. It is a lesson I have put to good use in all the years since.

I am glad that I live in a time when we have the Internet because it gives me the chance to thank him in front of the entire world.The craft of violin making, which was a dying art in the 1960s, owes Karl Roy a debt of gratitude as well.


. . . Carleen Hutchins . . .


Carleen came later in life to violin work so she could improve her factory viola and play chamber music with her friends. She received instruction in violin making from Carl Berger and S. F. Sacconi, training in violin acoustics from Frederick Saunders, assistance in scaling from John Schelleng, and help over years from top experts in the field of physics and acoustics such as Arthur Benade and Norman Pickering.

Before her life came to an end in her 99th year, she had written dozens of scholarly papers, edited two volumes on musical instrument acoustics, was made an honory fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, held the society's silver medal in acoustics, received two Guggenheim grants, and was the recipient of four honorary doctorates. She developed the theory of free plate tuning, which gave the violin maker an important new tool and arguably changed forever the way that violins are made. What was even more astonishing is that she shared her findings freely and taught the technique to anyone who wanted to learn it.

I was among the few lucky ones. To be a student of Carleen Hutchins, to walk that fine line between science and art, was the experience of a lifetime. I am proud and humble to have studied with her in that famously underheated garage in Montclair, New Jersey. Carleen's teaching is one of the reasons I feel so strongly about the New Violin Family. Carleen passed away on August 7, 2009, and helping to make her dream successful remains one of just a few ways I can repay my teacher for her great gift.


Last updated: May 6, 2017

. . . Bill Hurley. . .

Bill HurleyBill began his apprenticeship at the Singing Woods Violin shop in 2010. He originally studied as a violinist, and he has a graduate degree in performance from Ithaca College where he was a student of Susan Waterbury. In addition to his increasing involvement at the shop, Bill is a visiting lecturer / instructor at Cornell University, and he continues to play in the Binghamton Philharmonic and Tri-Cities Opera, among others. His abilities as a violinist are put to good use in the shop when setting up new instruments.

Bill has made one piccolo violin, four standard violins, one mezzo violin, three ergonomic violas, one alto violin, and two violas d'amore. Many of these instruments are now in professional use. He is currently being tutored by the well-known bowmaker, Geo. Kloppel, in the fine points of bow rehairing,.

. . . Rick Geiger . . .

Rick Geiger Rick joined the core of apprentices in 2015. As a child, he loved the violin even as he studied to be a concert pianist. Eventually Rick made his career in law, receiving his J.D. From Boston University. Upon his retirement as Associate Dean of the Cornell Law School, his interest in music and stringed instruments returned, and he began to study violin with Bill Hurley. This led him to join the Singing Woods Violin Shop group of apprentices.

Rick's study has been mostly under Bob Spear, but he also has taken classes with Francis Morris and Horst Kloss at the University of New Hampshire's well-regarded Violin Craftsmanship program, as well as with master varnish maker Joe Robson.


. . . John Hoffmann . . .

John HoffmannJohn came to the Singing Woods Violin Shop in March, 2016. He has been involved in woodworking and architectural design for his entire career and recently retired from 26 years as the Director of Facilities and Business Operations for the Cornell University Library. While working at Cornell, John attended numerous violin restoration classes at the University of New Hampshire, VSA’s Oberlin Restoration Workshop, MCLA’s Violin Restoration classes with Hans J. Nebel, and violin varnish workshops with Joe Robson. We are fortunate to enjoy his considerable experience and contacts in the violin world.




. . . Jaime Kibelsbeck . . .

Jaime KibelsbeckJaime is our most recent student. She has experience in music retail and shop operations and has also worked as an administrative assistant and adjunct lecturer of viola at Ithaca College. She is currently on the string faculty at the Ithaca Community School of Music and Arts and also maintains a private studio in the Ithaca area. Jaime holds two degrees in education and viola performance from Ithaca College.    

An early music enthusiast, she has studied baroque viola and performed as a member of Cornell University’s early music ensemble Le Petit Violins. Unable to resist baroque instruments with “viola” in their names, she also plays the viola da gamba and the viola d’amore, the latter of which was made by William Hurley. 

     Jaime is currently working on making her first instrument (a viola!), and has already shown an aptitude for varnishing and retouching. 



Last updated: May 6, 2017

Aomori, Tomoya; contrabass violin; teacher Juilliard Prep Division; New York Classical Players

Cohen, Bonnie; viola; freelance player, teacher; Washington, DC

Crawford, Roberta; viola; founder and associate director, Finger Lakes Chamber Ensemble

Ferebee, Lisa; cello; Taliesin Orchestra, Moments of Grace

Forbes, Charles; cello; founder New York Camerata; principal, American Symphony Orchestra

Forbes, Shane; alto violin

Jordan, Daniel; violin (viola); concertmaster, Sarasota Symphony Orchestra*

Martin, John; cello; principal, National Symphony Orchestra

McLain, William; viola

Moree, Debra; viola; professor, Ithaca College

Olson, Ellen; viola; Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra; founder, San Marco Chamber Music Society

Patterson, Carrick; alto violin

Rostropich, Mstislav; cello virtuoso; conductor, National Symphony Orchestra

Shade, Neil T.; alto violin

Smolen, Sera Jane; cello; clincian, college instructor, assistant director of New Directions Cello Festival

Symers, Gary; contrabass violin

Steck, Anne; viola; freelance violist, Washington Opera orchestra

Tifford, Matthew; cello; professor, Salisbury University, Selma M. Levine School of Music

Unger, Paul; contrabass violin, assistant principal, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra

Van Patten, Barbara; cello; Baltimore Opera Orchestra, Fairfax Symphony Orchestra


*To keep the record straight, I made a viola for Dan when he was still a young violin student. My wife made him a beautiful 3/4 violin when he was a child prodigy in Georgia.


Last updated: May 13 2017


Singing Woods Violin Shop History

I occupied my first "shop" in 1974 in a small room on the third floor of the old high school building at Ithaca, New York. The space was small, windowless, and had functioned at one time as a supply closet! I used it one or two nights a week for several years mostly to work on project instruments.

Later, as my skills and training improved, my new assistant, Deena Zalkind (later my wife), and I moved into a small suite of rooms (with real windows!!) on the same floor of the same building. We worked there until the end of 1979 when we left for Washington, D.C. with a brief side trip to Salt Lake City.


Years in Maryland

After we returned East, Deena and I worked in a shop for a few years in the early 1980s, but the commute began to get to us and we opened a shop in our home and began doing repairs and making new instruments on order as "Robert & Deena Spear, Violin Makers."

You *can* go home again.

I designed our new home outside of Ithaca, New York, and we returned as the 20th century gave way to the 21st. Deena eventually moved on to other personal and professional pursuits, and I retired to spend time writing, teaching, and designing new instruments. Or so I thought.

Then in 2008 the great recession came along, and I soon had to un-retire and re-establish my workshop. I work out of my home now with the part time delight of teaching four wonderful people.