Fredonia Grad Uses Skills For Instrument Repairs

Katie Ferrie uses orse hair and other tools to repair bows. Submitted photo

WARREN, Pa. — Katie Ferrie is a luthier — one who makes or repairs stringed instruments. And she sells herself best by calling herself “a repairman who plays.”

Ferrie, originally from Erie, Pa., has been playing violin and viola for over 20 years. With her undergraduate degree in Viola Performance from SUNY Fredonia, and her graduate degree in the same from The Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins University, Ferrie said, “it feels a little nicer paying those (student) loans every month” when she’s doing it by working within her field of study.

It was Ferrie’s first experience seeing Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet as a child that set her on her path of becoming a musician. Between her graduate and undergraduate degrees, Ferrie said, after moving to Baltimore, Md., she started learning to repair instruments at a small shop in her neighborhood that was in need of someone who specialized in strings.

As a player, Ferrie said, she has the edge over many other luthiers, many of whom are men — she knows how to communicate with her customers.

“A repairman that plays knows what spiccato feels like versus detache, understands how the balance point affects a bow’s ability to produce a perfect sautille stroke, and how different types of horse hair feel on the string… That the bow is the breath of the instrument and makes a player’s sound personal, and is often neglected by even professional musicians,” Ferrie writes on her website.

“Traditionally,” said Ferrie, luthierie has been a male-dominated profession. In fact, many instrument repair shops don’t often have people on staff who specialize in bow repair at all, male or female.

Originally, Ferrie said she only began training as a luthier to supplement the money she was making in private instruction or performing. That was five years ago. But over those five years, she said, she learned that her true passion for music was in repair and restoration.

Bow repair is fine, solitary, and intricate work, Ferrie said. And many of the bows in need of repair of rare or antique — pieces of history themselves. To have a customer trust her enough with the instrument most integral to their livelihood, she said, and to get to take apart, say, a Sartory bow and see how it’s made, how it works, and make it perfect again, is both an privilege and a living.

That and only having to travel across the hallway to get to work, she said, compared with long commutes in the Washington, D.C., area.

Ferrie has repaired and restored bows for players from the National Symphony, the Annapolis Symphony, and all of the top music conservatories nationwide, she said. After becoming the full-time luthier at the Potter Violin Company in Bethesda, Md., Ferrie said, she became the sole luthier for the Baroque Violin Shop in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Why Cincinnati? She and her husband, who’s from Scandia, were tired of maintaining a long-distance relationship.

“It made more sense for me to move to Cincinnati than for him to move to Maryland,” said Ferrie.

So off she went, to her third and final “apprenticeship.” It was at Baroque, Ferrie said, that she was able to fit the final piece into the puzzle of her future as a musician. It was at Baroque that Ferrie learned the business end of things. How to work with customers, how to handle shipping, and how to be a business owner were, Ferrie said, the only things she really had left to get a handle on.

It was during her time in Cincinnati that Ferrie writes on her website she “began to realize that my dream of one day running my own bow repair shop was one that I was able to achieve.”

Ferrie said that today her home business Black Cat Bow Repair — named after Ferrie’s own black cat Fiona — gets shipments of bows in need of repair from her entrepreneurial alma maters. The Potter Violin Company and Day Violins in Northern Virginia both send shipments, as does The Baroque Violin Shop.