Benning Violins is helping to make a difference in the lives of hardened inmates and nuns alike
For Hans and Nancy Benning, of Benning Violins, a violin shop in Los Angeles, making fine instruments for the world’s finest players is a four-generation family tradition—and so is giving back to the global community, in their case to orphans, incarcerated juveniles, and countless others in need in Baja, Mexico.
In their 70s, neither has retired from the lutherie business. Yet, as they have for more than 35 years, the Bennings continue to dedicate their time and considerable talent to build buildings — German-born Hans was a carpenter before he turned his skills to fashioning violins, cellos, and violas — and inspire music-making by teaching and donating scores of instruments to an orphanage and mission in the coastal village of Vicente Guerrero, about 175 miles south of Tijuana.
Along the way, they met, mentored, and nurtured a young talent, Tito Quiroz. Then eight years old, now 28 and an attorney, as well as a violinist, Quiroz has taken “the blessing, the teaching, and the values” he received from the Bennings to carry their legacy of service forward.
Six years ago, Quiroz founded a music school in Ensenada, Baja’s third-largest city, and commemorated his mentors by naming it the Benning Academia de Musica. By the end of the first year, the academy had 80 students and ten teachers—today, it boasts 700 students and more than 40 instructors.
Heidi's First Music Lesson: A Visit to Benning Violins
Written by By Diane Haithman | Studio City Patch
She thinks Beethoven is a dog -- but Heidi discovered music, and Studio City history, at Benning Violins on Ventura Boulevard
While Studio City mourns the passing of the landmark Henry’s Tacos, be thankful there is still some old Studio City history left in the neighborhood. One of those is Los Angeles violin shop Benning Violins on Ventura Boulevard, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. While Henry’s Tacos began stuffing ground meat into shells in the early 1960s, Benning Violins has been providing, as the front window says, “Studio City Music since 1953.”
I am beginning to appreciate anything that is older than I am. And ever since we started our column, Heidi and I have been thinking about dropping in on Benning Violins. It always seems so different from the other bustling, need-it-now businesses competing for our attention on Ventura Boulevard. It’s easy enough to find a place to get gluten-free pizza, medical marijuana or sweat pants with a suggestive message written in rhinestones across the rear end. There aren’t so many spots where you can watch plain wood transform into violins, violas and cellos before your eyes.
Couple's mission in Mexico combines faith and service
Written by Steve Lopez | Los Angeles Times
In 1979, the Bennings began working at a Mexican orphanage built by friends. Thirty-four years later, they're still going back.
Tito reaches out to the poorest families, who come in on scholarship, their training funded in part by donations and by the fees middle-class families are able to pay. The academy members are like a very large family, says Tito, who believes that in his troubled country, music can be a healing force, and a way to build pride and develop a greater sense of community.
"The idea is something like El Sistema," Tito said of the Venezuelan music program that L.A. Philharmonic Conductor Gustavo Dudamel helped cultivate.
The day we arrived in Mexico, the Benning Academia orchestra performed at an orphanage on the famed Ruta de Vino northeast of Ensenada. The orphanage director, Jonathan Lopez, told me the children there have lost their parents to accidents and violence. Some were given up by families overwhelmed by their children's physical or mental disabilities.
"It's a little bit of everything," he said.
Nancy Benning tuned violins for children in the orphanage's music education program. With nervous fingers but big smiles, the youngsters opened the outdoor concert with a short piece that drew hearty applause. They then joined the audience to watch the Academia orchestra — which included young children as well as some of Baja's finest adult mariachi players — in a rousing celebration of ranchera romantica and other local music.
Old World craft of violin-making is alive in Studio City
Since the early 20th century, members of the Benning family have been making violins renowned for their beauty, sound and craftsmanship.
One day, mid-summer, I stopped by Los Angeles violin shop Benning Violins in Studio City for repairs on a friend's cello. German-born Hans Benning was at his work station, a violin on his bench and a wood plane in his strong, lean hand. To his left was his son, Eric. And next to Eric was Eric's son, Nathan. All three wore shop aprons and the fine dust of aged, hand-picked Bavarian and Bosnian spruce and maple.
Nathan, 13, was busy. Head down, he was working on a project that filled his dad and grandfather with pride. In a family that has been in the business since the early 20th century, faithful to an old-world craft that takes great patience, Nathan was making his first violin.
Hans surveyed his grandson through wire-rimmed spectacles, proud of the multi-generational operation. I asked Nathan what he thought of his work, and he deferred to the masters in his midst. His grandfather put it like this:
"He's got talent."
The shop's history is a bit complicated, but the roots go back to Illinois, Eric explained, where "my grandfather's sister married Carl Becker Sr., and he was the god of all violin makers in America."
14-year-old becomes a fourth-generation violin craftsman
Written by By Dana Bartholomew, Los Angeles Daily News
STUDIO CITY | Fourteen-year-old Nathan Benning cradled a violin 14 months in the making, fitted it to a freckly chin, then launched into a deep and resonant minor violin concerto.
Its rich vibrato filled the showroom at Los Angeles violin shop Studio City Music, otherwise known as Benning Violins. With his new fiddle fresh from the family workbench, Nathan was the fourth generation of the Benning family to craft a premium concert violin.
“I got it,” declared Nathan, lowering his violin toward a green luthier’s apron worn just like his father, grandfather, grandmother, great-grandfather and great uncle before him. “I’m happy with it. It’s a Stradivarius model. It sounds like a Strad.
“I feel good about it.”
As the morning sun cascaded across the 61-year-old Benning showroom this week, his father Eric Benning, a master instrument maker, beamed.