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The SHAR Apprentice Program

Alexandra Ostroff2

In today's blog post, Alexandra Ostroff and Katie Thompson, two senior apprentices at SHAR, promote the SHAR Apprentice Program by sharing a little about their time here. Interested in applying? Scroll down to the bottom of this post for more details. 

Hi Alexandra! So, you're now a senior apprentice at SHAR, but what were you doing before? What has your time as an apprentice like here? Do you perfrom in town?  

I applied for the Apprentice Program upon earning my Master in Music from The University of Louisville in May 2008. I’d gone straight into my graduate work after I earned my Bachelor in Music from Baldwin Wallace College in 2006 and, needless to say, I was burnt out on school. As an apprentice I’ve had a few projects that I’ve worked on. I looked into carrying more orchestral excerpts, did a brief write up on the most popular method books here, blogged about a quartet with co-workers, helped co-ordinate the Sassmannshaus Workshop in the Showroom, and organized the Apprentice Ensemble’s outreach to local Michigan schools.  I’ve really enjoyed writing reviews for products and the monthly “Notes From An Apprentice” blog.

During my time working at SHAR, I have worked in several departments and helped out where I can. I enjoy working in the showroom. I have learned a lot about the many products available for violin and viola (my primary and secondary instruments) and even cello (which I couldn’t play to save my life). 

I’ve also carved a niche for myself here in Ann Arbor as a working musician. I took several auditions and sent my resume to the many Southeastern Michigan orchestras upon my arrival.  I’ve actively searched for playing and teaching opportunities in the area and have learned to balance them with my full-time position at SHAR.  

Hi Katie! You're also a senior apprentice. When did you first join the apprentice program? And how have you spent your time in it? 

I came into the program in Fall of 2010, after I finished my master’s degree. When I moved to Ann Arbor, I wasn’t sure of much. I didn’t know where I wanted to end up, just that I wanted to play the violin! While I’ve been here, I’ve clarified goals and learned important skills that will help me in my future endeavors. I’ve gained a lot of tools for understanding and helping people. I’ve worked on a number of projects, both on my own and with my colleagues here. I’ve met many wonderful musicians and teachers, both at the ASTA trade show I attended and here in Ann Arbor. Through my contacts, I’ve had the privilege of playing gigs in this area. Being in this program has helped me define what I want to do and has given me many tools to actually accomplish those dreams!

Are YOU graduating in May (or did you graduate in December 2011)? Are you not sure what path to take next?

SHAR's 3rd Annual String Quartet Competition

SHAR Quartet Competition

SHAR Music is proud to announce the winners of its third annual Quartet Competition!

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Dear Friends:


Meet Our Bloggers!


Alberta Barnes
is orignally from Boise, Idaho and began playing the violin at a young age. She continued her study of the violin at Lawrence University and graduated magna cum laude from the Conservatory of Music in 2009 with a degree in violin performance. While studying under the instruction of Wen-Lei Gu, Alberta also played in numerous chamber ensembles, local symphonies, and was  co-concertmaster of the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra. After finishing her undergraduate studies, she worked toward a master’s degree in theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, briefly living in Rome and studying at the Pontificia Università San Tommaso. She is currently a SHAR Apprentice and lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She plays regularly at a local Italian restaurant and performs as a part of the SHAR Apprentice Ensemble.

Joseph Chapman was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he earned a B.A. in English and creative writing and the University of Virginia where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in poetry writing. Before joining the web department at SHAR, he taught writing part-time for the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, and Semester at Sea. His honors include the Ann Williams Burrus Prize in Poetry (2005), a Henry Hoyns Fellowship (2005-2006), and an Academy of American Poets prize (2007). From 2007 to 2008, he served as poetry editor for Meridian magazine, and his poems and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Boston Review, The Cincinnati Review, Best American Poetry 2012, and elsewhere. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife Julia Hansen.

Nerissa Nields
has been a member of the legendary folk band The Nields since 1991. She has toured North America, been on major labels, shared stages with 10,000 Maniacs, Suzanne Vega, Indigo Girls, The Band, and James Taylor (to name a few), played to tens of thousands from stages all across the continent and has passionate fans all over the world. Between the Nields and her duo with sister Katryna Nields, she has made sixteen CDs. She is the author of three books, most recently All Together Singing in the Kitchen: Creative Ways to Make and Listen to Music as a Family (Shambhala/Roost Books 2011). With her sister Katryna, she is the co-creator of HooteNanny, early music programs for children 0-10 and their grown-ups, and HooteNanny Guitar, a program for parents to learn to play guitar with and for their children. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with her husband Tom and their two children. Photo by Sarah Prall. 


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What's in a Name? Everything for SHAR's John Cheng Violins

Joe Chapman

In this week's blog post, I quote from Romeo & Juliet and talk about the stink eye, Apple computers, and globalization. Then I share praise for our John Cheng line of violins from Strings Magazine. Intrigued? Read on.

Although I usually give the stink eye to essays or blogs that begin with an overused quote, I'm going to break one of my own rules. Here goes, a favorite from Romeo & Juliet: What's in a name? For SHAR's John Cheng violins, a whole lot. The John Cheng name is a big, risky move for us because we're celebrating the fact that these violins are manufactured in China. This isn't the Carlo Lamberti, the Otto Ernst Fischer, or the Karl Joseph Schneider, which are all Italian- or German-branded instruments. The John Cheng is a Chinese-made and Chinese-branded instrument. 

Many violinists are coming around to reality of high-level, Chinese-manufactured instruments, but it's still a controversial subject. 
The shift of jobs from the U.S. to elsewhere is all over the news and in fiery political speeches. In a recent article in the NY Times on the shift of Apple's American engineering jobs to overseas sites in China, Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher suggest that it's not the wage differences between the U.S. and elsewhere that allows for high-quality products to be manufactured at low cost in China but rather the growing middle class of engineers and skilled workers overseas. The U.S. just can't compete with the sheer number of engineers in China.

Obviously, the world is changing. Americans used to think of Chinese-made goods as cheap, or, more accurately, cheaply made. That's no longer the case. Apple -- which is one of the world's most innovative companies, largely because it deeply cares about quality and user experience -- has shifted its manufacturing operations to China. That fact can be scary, but it should also push us to rethink our assumptions about the quality of Chinese manufacturing. 

What makes Apple's products so pleasing is their attention to the minutest details of user experience. That's what we hoped to achieve with our John Cheng line, from the European-sourced spruce and maple wood of these violins to their thinner thumb-side necks. The way we achieve this attention to detail is through a close relationship with the John Cheng workshop in Beijing and the careful setup of the instruments in Ann Arbor. 

We were really, really happy, then, to read a review of the John Cheng line in Strings Magazine. Our careful setup is one of the major points of praise Greg Orwell gives our John Cheng line of violins in his review. (Orwell also praises the sound, wood, and styling of both the Stradivari and Limited Edition models.) It's all music to our ears, since we've worked so hard to have skilled luthiers and craftspeople in our Beijing and Ann Arbor workshops. Globalization is scary, but we can still pay attention to the details of craftsmanship, from the source of the wood to the placement of the bridge. 

And it's hard to give the stink eye to that.   

Become a Guest Blogger for SHAR


Your wildest dreams just came true: we're taking submissions for our blog. Write a blog entry for us and share tips and stories with other teachers, students, and musicians. Have your say. Speak your mind. But first check out the details below.

Call for Submissions:

We're excited about expanding our blog to include our readers and customers! As we increase our number of weekly blog entries, we'd like to read the entries that you want to see on our page. So, we're looking for entries between 500 and 1,000 words on any topic you think the string community would find useful and interesting. That said, here are some suggested topics:

Would Stephen Colbert Make Fun of SHAR's 50th Anniversary?

Stephen Colbert

SHAR is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. I can't help but get all self-conscious about the celebrations and wonder how Stephen Colbert would respond to institutional birthdays. I also admit that SHAR is a good and decent company after all and probably deserves a birthday celebration.

With all the talk about Super PACs in the Republican primaries and the two-year anniversary of the Citizens United (2010) Supreme Court case coming up, I feel a little strange writing a blog about SHAR's 50th anniversary. Mainly, I guess, because we're celebrating the birthday of a company. (Are institutions people? Who should actually get the cake and presents?) I worry that Stephen Colbert, comedic genius and chief tormentor of the new Super PAC practice, might mock me. 

It's true. The two-year anniversary of the Citizens United case and its effects on the current political climate have got me thinking too much about the intricacies of SHAR's big 50th celebration. Here are my further questions: Is it weird to celebrate a company's birthday? Do companies have birthdays like real people? And, more importantly, can you hurt a company's feelings by not celebrating its birthday?

Of course, SHAR is not a person. It's a company that sells strings and string instruments to make a profit, and SHAR probably does not have feelings that can be hurt. That said, SHAR has done some things worth celebrating. It started out as a family business in 1962 -- in the basement of Michael Avsharian, Sr., the father of Charles Avsharian, the current CEO -- and has remained a family business since. And though SHAR does sell stuff, it doesn't just sell any type of stuff: it sells musical instruments, strings, sheet music, and all the accouterments and accessories necessary to making music. If most folks can agree that making music is one of the finest things in this world, then serving musicians and the teachers of those musicians is a good and decent mission for a company.

And to celebrate the SHAR's good and decent mission, we're releasing a video series that documents the company's history and its engagement with the string community. Mostly what comes across in this video series is SHAR's commitment to fine craftsmanship, education, and, especially, to musicians, whatever your age, level, or budget. One upcoming video episode will focus on our highly respected violin repair shop (the Henry Ford collection asked SHAR to work on their violins). Other episodes will highlight our deep commitment to the American String Teachers Association (ASTA) and school sales and rentals, with testimonials from the former president of ASTA and local high school teachers. Essentially, the point of all these videos is to show that for fifty years SHAR has provided quality goods to musicians throughout all the stages of their careers: from awkward middle school players to refined orchestra members.

(Excuse the brief self-awareness and pop-culture reference, but I wonder how Don Draper and Peggy Olson from Mad Men would write pithy ad copy for SHAR if Don and Peggy played up the stages-of-your-career angle. "We're there for you from string orchestra to symphony." "Make music. We'll worry about the rest." I could go on. If you're so inclined, leave a comment below with your own Don Draper and/or Peggy Olson ad copy for SHAR.

Anyway, all this is to say that SHAR is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and we're happy about it. It's tough to think of a company as a person, but maybe it's not so tough to think of SHAR as a group of folks with good intentions who are dedicated to music and music education. Check out our weekly videos here every Monday and raise a toast to fifty more years.     


Don't Panic: We Have Last-Last-Minute Gift Ideas

Mark O'Connor An Appalachian Christmas

We try to quell your rising holiday panic by sharing a few gift ideas.

I have a confession to make: after work today, I still have three Christmas gifts to buy. Tomorrow, I'm flying home to North Carolina. Every year, I do the same thing. I start thinking about possible gifts in October and then revel in the platonic perfection of these un-purchased gifts.

It's usually not until December 20th or so that I really begin to panic and worry about actually buying these oh-so-thoughtful presents. Sometimes, I'm still scrambling on Christmas Eve for the perfect gift, clinging to the idea that I will find a snazzy iPad case or hip cardigan for the Grinch on my list. (You know this person: your friends and family members all call each other every year, saying, "Um ... what are you getting So-and-so?)

Here are a few quick ideas if you're struggling to find the perfect present for the musician on your list. If you order the item with Express Delivery by 3 p.m. today, you'll get the gift in time. If you want to think about it more, you can still order by 3 p.m. tomorrow and add 2nd Day Air. Good luck!

$25 & Under:

Mark O'Connor's
An Appalachian Christmas.This will be an immediate hit. You can ditch Pandora for a little bit and throw this album on the stereo Christmas afternoon. It's only $8.99, which is a small price to pay for a terrific album. (The Wall Street Journal thinks so too; they put it in their list of the top six Christmas albums.)

Folks can get attached to their rosin brand, but it's worth trying Liebenzeller. It's a high-quality rosin that's a tiny bit indulgent: and aren't those the perfect gifts? The gifts someone will actually use and love but might not buy for himself? It's on sale for $20.

$50 or more:

String instrument players always need strings. Do a little quick research and find out what kind of strings the person on your list uses. Pair it with something a little more indulgent like a fine chocolate. Well, that's what I would want.

$200 or more:

Maybe it's time for your player to step up to a higher quality bow. Right now, you can have three bows shipped to you with 2nd Day Air at no charge. Then you can send one, two, or all three back, free of charge too. The only catch is that the bows need a price tag of $200 or more. But this is the perfect chance to let someone try out multiple bows with minimal pressure. Check out this link for more details, but you have to call before December 21st.

Does Using SHAR's Mobile Site Make You a Smart Phone Zombie?

The Walking Dead zombies 532x354 resized 600

We take a look at possible connections between the smart phone phenomenon and zombies. And we plug our mobile site.

What's the point of shopping on your smart phone? And what would be the point of using SHAR's mobile site on your smart phone? I admit that I didn't understand the attraction before I finally took the plunge and bought an iPhone 4. Now I'm looking for any excuse to use my shiny new device.

Smart phones can by annoying, certainly. We all know the half-engaged look of someone texting, but now that smart phones are more common, we also know the glazed-over look of Googlers, Facebookers, and YouTubers.

I'm going to make a strange claim here. Though I'm sometimes guilty of zombieish smart phone distraction (is it any coincidence that The Walking Dead is one of the most popular cable shows of the smart phone era?), I also think that using my smart phone while at home makes me more engaged with my surroundings.

Instead of being totally sucked into my computer screen, the world around me is more present. It's like watching a movie on small screen instead of watching it with surround sound and on plasma. The home-theater set-up can engage all your senses to the point that you forget the pot roast in the oven.

So, if I'm going to be attached to an electronic device, I only want to be partially attached.

Of course, there's also the utter ease of checking product availability and price on a retailer's website when you're in a brick-and-mortar store. (Though if you've been following the news recently, we certainly don't want you scanning bar codes and sending them to us like does.)

And although an April 17th New York Times article doubted whether mobile sites would really take off, more and more folks may be changing their shopping and web browsing habits. At first, few customers felt safe using their phones to order their stuff and the sites were clunky on a mobile phone anyways.

Now things are changing. In a recent article on mobile sites, the NY Times quoted a study that tracked ten percent of online purchases to a mobile device in the month of October That's up three percent from last year, and it looks like more and more shoppers are using their phones to place orders.

We're trying out the mobile thing, so check out our mobile site at on your smart phone. You can update customer information, browse for products, and even purchase products. We know most of you probably won't buy a $2,000 violin with your smart phone, but feel free to look around and order small gifts for your friends and family this holiday season!


Making a Violin Sound Great: An Interview with SHAR's Hans Anderson

Hans Anderson

I sat down with SHAR Violin Shop Manager Hans Anderson on Friday, November 4th to talk about SHAR's new John Cheng line of violins. Hans and I met early that morning in one of the rehearsal rooms, which, with its hardwood floors and vaguely Victorian furnishings, seemed like a fitting place to talk about a new line of violins. Before talking about the John Cheng line, though, I first asked Hans to share a little about himself as a musician and his approach to selling instruments. I found our discussion so interesting that I decided to post the interview in two parts on our blog. In last week's post, Hans shared his thoughts about the relationship a player forms with an instrument. In this week's post, Hans and I talk about SHAR's new line of John Cheng violins and the range of responsiveness these violins open up for serious musicians on a budget.

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