Ministering to Musicians

Sore muscles, instrument wear and tear, tax challenges and stress. Musicians deal with all of them on a regular basis. Fortunately, there is a world of professionals — from luthiers and massage therapists to chiropractors and vocal coaches — to minister to musicians’ needs, and these experts and craftsmen are every bit as remarkable as those we see on stage.


For string players, KC’s wealth of champion luthiers tops the list of essential professionals. They include Alter’s Violin Shop founder, Carolyn Alter, a performing violinist who describes herself as “a holistic resource for string musicians of all levels.”

“I often take on the player’s perspective in my work, which helps me to better serve musicians,” she says. Besides playing herself, Alter is the director of an adult ensemble and a private violin teacher.

At the shop, she offers maintenance, repair and rehair service and also sells instruments, bows and accessories.

Francesca Manheim, a second violinist with the Kansas City Symphony, is a recurrent customer at Alter’s Violin Shop.

“I appreciate Carolyn’s knowledge and understanding about caring for the violin and the bow, as she is a violinist herself,” Manheim said. “I bought a bow from Carolyn and she re-hairs my bow when the horse hair is worn out.”

Kenneth Beckmann, founder of Beckmann Violin Shop in Mission, is another star violin maker and restorer. Beckmann has been a force here since 1989 and is one of only three accredited by the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers in the region.

Beckmann cites Oberlin College’s renowned summer violin making workshop and its emphasis on Renaissance-based “proportional design” for setting him on a path “toward creating a unique instrument while still embracing the classical traditions of violin making.” His regular customers include Kansas City Symphony musicians Larry Figg, cellist, and Alex East, assistant principal cellist, for whom he created a custom cello of slightly different dimensions for enhanced comfort and “personality.”

Symphony string players in need of maintenance, repair and restoration also turn to nationally renowned luthier Amos Hargrave. Hargrave, based in Lawrence, makes violins, violas and cellos in the classic Italian tradition and has received a multitude of awards in violin workmanship and sound. He also sells new and antique instruments and accessories.


Reed instrument players are well supplied at Luyben Music, including those who prefer plastic ligatures to the traditional metal ones. In 1965 Luyben Music founder Robert Luyben, formerly a clarinetist with the U.S. Navy Band and the Kansas City Philharmonic, developed and patented the plastic reverse ligature.

Plastic ligatures do not harm the reeds like metal ones, which can clamp and crush, and the plastic version can also facilitate a more correct vibration. Teachers frequently require the plastic ligatures for beginner players, and annually, Luyben distributes thousands of them worldwide. They are also used by many professionals.

Since Robert’s death in 1993, the music store has been run by his daughter, Annette. It is staffed entirely by musicians and stocks many musicians’ needs, including printed music, new and used band and orchestral instruments, and accessories. The shop celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.


Dr. Mark Strozier, chiropractor, attends to many local musicians. According to guitarist Beau Bledsoe, founder of Ensemble Ibérica, he “keeps our backs and arms working.” On any given day, several musicians await treatment in Strozier’s Waldo area office, knowing they’ll be received by an expert, who truly understands their needs. Strozier is himself an accomplished, recognized flautist who performs frequently with groups around town, including Ensemble Ibérica.


The human voice requires a different kind of specialist and instructional program. The Lyric Opera of Kansas City has launched a promising one, the Resident Artist Program, now in its first year. Artistic director Brad Trexel and internationally recognized operatic tenor and UMKC Professor of Voice, Vinson Cole, auditioned singers in New York and Kansas City and now work with four of them to more fully develop their talent and prepare them for their careers.

Cole sees each singer once a week; the singer/student brings in an upcoming aria or role or recital piece and together with an accompanist they work to perfect the performance. This season these singers have performed in “Marriage of Figaro,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Dead Man Walking” and “Pirates of Penzance.”

Cole says this type of resident artist program can be found in most cities now — a far cry from when he was training and there were only summer apprenticeship programs in Santa Fe, Lake George and Chatauqua. Besides his professor duties at the Conservatory, Cole still gives periodic recitals, but he has already “fulfilled incredible dreams,” he said, and is now pleased to guide others to those dreams.


Susan Goldenberg, a first violinist for the Kansas City Symphony, is also known as a performer in the Goldenberg Duo with her pianist brother, William Goldenberg. When preparing for their concerts, Goldenberg often turns to the Music Library at UMKC, which she calls “an outstanding resource to use for computers, scores, music journals and audio/video needs.” “The personnel at the music/media library are supportive, compassionate, resourceful and very patient,” Goldenberg added.


Artists and musicians must submit to taxation along with all the rest of us but, luckily, there’s a local specialist for them too. Dean Vivion, an ex-actor and voice talent, has more than 400 clients nationwide, and it’s likely the actor/singer/musician/dancer you applaud has turned to him for help with their taxes.

Most are self-employed, and many have home offices and work in multiple states, so their issues are complicated, Vivion said. He gives dozens of seminars each year and dispels any notion of the artistic temperament being an obstacle. His clients, he says, have “an undying thirst for this information.”


There’s nothing like exercise to enhance a performer’s endurance and mental state. Phil Clark, Kansas City symphony associate principal trumpet player, sports a well-earned black belt in karate. Karen Lisondra, dancer and percussionist with her musician husband, Amado Espinoza (who also, as a skilled woodworker, makes many of his stringed and woodwind instruments), practices and instructs yoga for strength and vitality. Meredith McCook, cellist with the Symphony, agrees that yoga is of great benefit, as it helps her “decompress after sitting and playing for many hours.” She also pursues Pilates, running, and varied classes at the gym, and she’s recently started kickboxing.


Kent Swafford, winner of the 2011 Golden Hammer Award, works for the UMKC Conservatory, where he maintains, repairs and rebuilds more than 120 pianos and harpsichords. Swafford is also in demand as an instructor; he teaches classes, authors articles and is in constant contact with piano techs worldwide.

Pianist Charles Dickinson, who often performs with local classical music groups such as Midwest Chamber Ensemble and newEar, has known Swafford since his student days.

“An expert like Kent can maintain every aspect of a top-quality instrument, including the action and voicing, both of which can dramatically affect how the pianist plays,” Dickinson said. “A poorly prepared piano can really detract from a recital, whereas a masterfully prepared one can give a pianist total freedom and make playing the instrument that much easier. I have played many recitals in White Hall, where Kent works on the Steinway Ds, and those instruments are a dream to play.”

Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith is an impassioned supporter of local performances of all types, who welcomes the  opportunity to promote them to KC Studio readers.

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