In the latest article focusing on life behind the scenes at Bridgewood and Neitzert, we visit the front of house to meet Colin Parker, who looks after our customers and is responsible for the smooth running of the shop.
Like his colleagues in the workshop, Colin is passionate about his job, and his love of the violin goes back a long time. Colin played violin from the age of five, and although he chose history to study as a degree, he worked in his local violin shop as a tea boy at weekends. ‘Even after graduating when, I came back from Uni and had done my degree I was still interested in violins. I love being around instruments’ Colin enthuses. Following his passion, once he had graduated, Colin began to work at his local violin shop where he became familiar with the day to day running of a specialist violin shop.
Colin then moved on to a larger London violin shop where he began to work with a wider range of instruments, from student instruments through to fine historical instruments. He also became responsible for stock buying and stock control. When the owner decided to sell the shop, Colin decided that he wanted to find a new position. He had met the Bridgewood and Neitzert owners Gary and Tom and was keen to work with them, ‘I really liked their attitude towards customers and their general ethos. They are hugely knowledgeable but at the same time completely approachable’.
The appreciation was mutual, and Colin soon joined Bridgewood and Neitzert with the skills and experience from his previous jobs and an appetite to learn more. ‘Bridgewood and Neitzert is very strong in terms of early music so I’ve now learned a lot about baroque instruments. I can now give sound advice on string gauges and conversions’, explains Colin. As he talks further about his role, it’s clear that he is a very important bridge between the customer and the workshop team. Because of his years working in the violin trade he is able, under Gary’s watchful eye, to support assessments on instruments coming in and has a good knowledge on the provenance of instruments. Like his colleagues in the workshop, Colin is appreciative of the mentorship given by Gary, ‘He’s very generous with his knowledge and I’m learning a lot about how to identify instruments from him.’ Colin also supports Tom with the bow re-hairs, a skill that he learnt from luthier Yan Besson.
Colin is clearly a ‘people person’. When I ask what his favourite thing about the job is, he says ‘the customers and the relationships I have built over the years which in many cases have become friendships’. Colin has built up a great deal of trust with London violin teaching community and many customers will come in and ask for him by name as a teacher will have recommended him, knowing that their pupil will receive sound advice.
Colin also gets to use his skills as a violinist in his role, in order to demonstrate to a player how an instrument sounds. ‘This is very important, even for a professional player choosing a high-end instrument, as it sounds very different under the ear’ Colin explains, laughing ‘I usually choose something simple if I’m playing for a great violinist!’. In the course of his demonstrations, Colin’s experiences really do range from the sublime to the ridiculous, from playing Amati and Vuillaume violins, Tubbs and Sartory bows, through to attempting to get a sound out of a tiny eighth size violin for a child.
Colin’s passions for music and people are mirrored in his life outside his work at Bridgewood and Neitzert. He plays violin in the Whitehall Orchestra and is still heavily involved in the Bromley Youth Music Trust, one of the largest youth music organisations in the country which runs the youth orchestra he went to as a child. He also runs The Amici Orchestra, an orchestra devoted to charity fundraising. Alongside his work at Bridgewood and Neitzert Colin has also driven for the NHS out of hours service taking GPs on home visits out of hours for the last fifteen years. He describes the responsibility of his role. ‘The car has controlled drugs and I provide a useful support function for doctors, for example in an emergency I can call an ambulance while the doctor resuscitates the patient’.
It is clear that Colin enjoys roles that have a strong human connection, and he speaks fondly of the team at Bridgewood and Neitzert, ‘Camaraderie and shared interest in music is a big thing. The team we have here is very well balanced and complementary’. Like his colleagues in the workshop, Colin also clearly gets enormous satisfaction from a job that brings him into contact with fine historical instruments and the gifted people that play them. Should you need a bit of advice on anything ranging from which violin to choose to ideal strings or humidifiers for your instrument, he’ll be on hand to help!