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Paul Toenniges was born in De Kalb, Illinois in 1908. Paul began his studies of instrument making under the promptings of renown violinmaker Carl Becker Sr., his brother-in-law.
Toenniges worked alongside some of the greatest names in American violinmakers and restorers while working at William Lewis & Son in Chicago from 1926 to 1940. While there, Paul established himself as an excellent repairman and fine bass maker.
He moved to Los Angeles in 1945, where he worked at the Rudolf Wurlitzer branch from 1946 to 1950. Finally, in 1950, Paul opened his own shop, which he named Studio City Music.
Paul ran a simple family-owned and operated business along with his wife, Ruth, and two daughters, Nancy and Jane.
Paul's influence and passion for the craft of violinmaking is deeply felt today at Benning Violins.
Hans Benning was born in Aachen, Germany. He entered the Violinmaking School in Mittenwald, Germany, in 1962, the same year as his soon-to-be wife, Nancy Benning. Arriving in the United States in 1964, he worked in the Studio City Music Shop with his new father-in-law, Paul Toenniges. There Hans Benning learned the fine art of repair and restoration under Paul Toenniges, Raymond Del Prato, and Frank Kovanda. Hans also studied for a time with Carl Becker, Sr.
In 1978 Hans and Nancy Benning took over the Studio City Music store along with Nancy’s sister, Jane Fink, and they began specializing in only violins, violas, cellos and viola da gambas. Benning Violins was born out of that transition from a more general music store to the specialized violin shop that exists today.
Hans has made many fine violins, violas and cellos, which are enjoyed by both professionals and amateurs alike. He has also made a number of viola da gambas which are still being played today by those who are involved in baroque and renaissance music.
Hans was secretary of the International Violinmakers Association (EILA), of which he is now a senior member. He is also a member of the German Violinmakers Association (VDG), the American Federation of Violin and Bowmakers (AFVBM), and the Violin Society of America (VSA).
Hans was privileged to be able to care for and service the violins and bows for Jascha Heifitz.
Today he specializes in fine repairs, bow rehairs, and appraisals.
Nancy Benning was born in Chicago, IL. Her father, Paul Toenniges, brother-in-law to renowned Chicago violinmaker Carl Becker Sr., brought the family to Los Angeles in the early 1940s and started working with the Wurlitzer firm, after which he worked for several years in a workshop above his garage, and then in 1953 Paul and his wife, Ruth, opened up their own music store called Studio City Music. Nancy began working there in the workshop with her father at age 11, learning the art of fine restoration and repair. At the age of 22 she entered the Violinmaking School in Mittenwald, Germany and there met her husband, Hans Benning. They returned to the United States in 1964 and began working together at Studio City Music with Nancy’s parents.
In 1978, Nancy and Hans Benning took over the business along with Nancy’s sister, Jane Fink, and the transition from a general music store to a shop that specializes in fine violins, violas, cellos and gambas, was born. Benning Violins is the evolution of the business into the prestigious and renown firm that it is today.
Today Nancy is involved mostly with the business end of the shop, but she still maintains a workshop at her home where she is involved in the making of son Eric Benning’s master crafted instruments.
She enjoys playing the violin and especially enjoys playing chamber music with friends.
For the past 19 years, she has been traveling to Mexico where she teaches once a month in an orphanage and now teaches bi-monthly at Benning Academia in Ensenada, Mexico, a music school named after - and in honor of - Nancy and Hans.
Nancy considers it a great privilege and blessing to be working for 60 years with a wonderful family and fantastic clientele, some of whom are second and third generation customers and friends.
Eric Benning began making his first violin under the direction of his violinmaking parents, Hans and Nancy Benning, at the age of 9. Working only Saturdays and vacation days, Eric completed the violin at age 11. This was the beginning of a passionate desire to make instruments and to follow in the proud tradition of his family.
In 1997 Eric began studying with renown craftsman Carl Becker Jr., son of Carl Becker Sr., the celebrated Chicago maker who passed on his tradition of master violinmaking to Paul Toenniges, founder of Studio City Music, and to Hans and Nancy Benning. Eric spent time in Mittenwald, Germany learning the craft of elaborate scroll making, a skill and talent he's been widely recognized for.
Over the years, Eric continued making violins, violas and cellos and even a few viola d'amores while continuing his studies with Becker perfecting the old world style and working traditions that mark his current work. Eric has made over 100 instruments to date and is constantly working and learning to perfect his art.
Brian Benning is Benning Violins' resident musical artist and professional violinist. He is also an accomplished teacher, pianist and singer.
Beginning his musical studies at age 3 on the violin with Nancy Benning, Brian's talent was evident early. After nearly ten years, Benning became a student of teacher Teresa DiTullio and transitioned into a professional career by his early twenties. Brian spent the next 20 years in private study with renown teachers Robert Lipsett, Manuel Compinsky, Linda Rose, Mike Ferril and Endre Granat.
During this time, Brian began putting hours in at the shop (then known as Studio City Music) and has worked off and on at Benning Violins, taking the occasional hiatus when his professional career and outside interests necessitated it. At age 20, Brian found the time and passion to hand craft four fine violins of his own, under the tutelage of brother Eric and father Hans, one of which he performs on today.
Brian is a seasoned session player and freelancer as part of the diverse Los Angeles music scene. His curriculum vitae reads like a virtual whose who of the entertainment business.
Brian has performed with Clay Aikin, Josh Groban, Susan Boyle and Demi Lovato. He has recorded with Barry Manilow, Justin Timberlake, Bette Midler, Neil Diamond, Prince, Ray Charles, Diana Krall, Toni Braxton, Beonce and Norah Jones just to name a few. Brian has also appeared on stage with Angelica Houston and Sir Ben Kingsley and served as piano coach to Jack Nicholson in the 1996 blockbuster As Good as it Gets.
Brian can be heard on countless prominent movie and television soundtracks and has performed as a violinist with the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, the Long Beach Symphony, the Civic Light Opera Orchestra, the Pasadena Symphony and the American Youth Symphony and as a vocalist with the Los Angeles Master Choral.
Today, Brian can be found at the shop maintaining the high-end violins, cutting bridges, prepping student outfits and, most notably, demonstrating violins to the delight of Benning customers.
Laura Phillips, the friendly face of Benning Violins as Client Service Manager, did most of her growing up at Studio City Music where her mother, Jane Fink, began bringing her to work as a young child.
Laura began working at the shop full-time at the age of 17 handling sales, rentals, inventory and everything in between. Over the years, Laura has become an expert in her own right on instruments and accessories, offering her expertise in the warm and friendly manner that has made her a valued and beloved fixture at Benning Violins with generations of old and new clients.
Laura and her husband Chuck have four beautiful daughters, Ashley, Nicole, Danielle and Paige, who have had the privilege of being raised “at the shop”.
"One of the wonderful aspects of a family run business is the ability to include your children and hopefully entice them into continuing the legacy," says Laura. "I certainly benefitted from that tradition and now my own daughters are sharing in the same experience."
Although Laura is not a professional musician, she does enjoy singing in her church choir as well as playing violin and guitar as a hobby.
If you have any questions regarding instruments, accessories or rentals, or setting up an appointment for appraisals or adjustments, please contact Laura and she will be happy to assist you.
Jane Fink, second daughter to Paul and Ruth Toenniges and younger sister to Nancy Benning, began a lifelong career at the age of ten at what was then known as Studio City Music.
Jane was the warm and friendly smile and compassionate personality that expertly assisted generations of instrumentalists that came through the doors. Following in her father’s footsteps, Jane played the string bass and was gifted with many other musical talents including piano, guitar and voice. She played and sang professionally, performing across the United States as well as Internationally.
Jane Fink retired from Benning Violins in 1995 and began volunteering for the Burbank Symphony, Pacific Serenades and as Coordinator for Musical Performance at the Brand Library in Glendale, California. She enjoyed creating stained and fused glass works, gifting them to her extensive circle of friends.
Jane Fink passed away in 2007 after a long battle with cancer leaving her own daughter, Laura Phillips, to continue her singularly unique talents for assisting the new generations of Benning clients with love and care.
In a life marked by achievement and success, Jane’s most notable accomplishment was a life lived unselfishly loving and giving to those around her. Because of this, Jane Fink was much admired, respected and is greatly missed. Her influence in the evolution of Benning Violins is deeply felt today.