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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 be testing instruments, playing everything from classical to old time fiddle. You’ll see violins in various stages of completion, with nearly complete ones hanging by their scrolls from a rack, waiting to be varnished and set up. Among a pile of wood shavings on the workshop floor, you might find our two shop dogs, Amati and Lucy. When we’re not tonally adjusting instruments, classical music plays in the background and the sound of scraping wood fills the room. 

For our family, the Texas Violin Shop is a longtime dream that recently became reality. 

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

Estefan was the first in his family to be classically trained in music and, while completing his music degree Estefan fell in love with the trade of fine bowed string instruments. “The story of each antique instrument is unique in its own way, and I love having a tangible piece of history,” he said. When it comes to contemporary instruments, he said they “have their own story to create, and we are only the first chapter.” 

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

When I was 10 years old, I started playing the cello. At 15, I started 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 would often fix the instruments at school for my teacher and peers. Seeing the excited faces students made when I would adjust their instruments was incredibly gratifying. It was especially rewarding to take an old family heirloom that had been sitting around for decades and restore it to its former glory.

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

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

Estefan started his career at the Long Island Violin Shop in 2013 as the educational coordinator. He quickly made a name for himself as a teacher and violin dealer. As a top salesman, he was coordinating instrument showings at conservatories, universities and orchestras throughout New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We would often work together to offer educational workshops, repairs and instrument showings to performers, students and aspiring music educators. 

We fell in love while 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 biggest professional strings 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 instrument identification and sales of fine bowed stringed instruments. 

Violins ready to sell are hung in the Texas Violin Shop where Estefan and Samantha Cortez live.
Violins ready to sell are hung 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 dating and working together we eloped to Oahu, Hawaii to have a private wedding on the beach and start a new chapter of our lives together. 

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

In July of 2021, we established the Texas Violin Shop to share our expertise with our community. We offer sales, rentals, restorations, lessons and educational workshops for violin, viola, cello and bass. It’s also important to us to act as a resource to support music educators, public and private schools, and the local symphonies and community orchestras.

Our mission is to provide our community with the education and means necessary to succeed in a player’s musical goals. One of the ways we do that is by offering educational workshops to music educators and students. Our most popular workshop is an instrument maintenance workshop. We have done various levels of this workshop for music educators obtaining professional development, college students pursuing a music degree, and high schools and elementary schools.

We are often pulled 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 is not often that you would find a woman luthier (maker of stringed instruments), and the number of women working in this field has been growing tremendously since I started at 15 years old. 

As we approach our one-year shop anniversary, we’ve been so thankful for the welcoming support of the professional string 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 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 to create a community of players around us. In the future, we plan to offer master classes, performances, a scholarship fund for our employees and students on the path to a music career, and so much more to give back to our community for what they have given to us.

Samantha Cortez is owner/luthier at the Texas Violin Shop.