It was a find any die-hard “picker” would be proud of. Six years ago Corie Kraft’s father was renovating a home he purchased when he came across an old violin hidden under a stack of newspapers. The home’s former owner said to throw it in the garbage, but Kraft knew his daughter, an avid violinist, would want the instrument. “I brought it to a shop in Pittsburgh and was told it was worth repairing,” recalls Kraft, the president of N. Versailles, Pa.- based Valley Pool & Spa.
Kraft paid $6,000 to fix the violin. It turned out to be a wise investment.
“It’s a 1772 Mathias Klotz,” she says. “I had it appraised at the time it was fixed for $30,000. It has a very beautiful, warm sound and I love it.”
Klotz violins date back to the mid-17th centurty when Matthias I started a school in Mittenwald, Germany, to teach others living in the village the craft of making the instrument. He passed the skill down to his son Sebastian I, who produced some of the most admired violins the family produced.
Today, Kraft plays the Mathias Klotz in the second violin section of the Edgewood Symphony Orchestra, an organization made up of 70 musicians. She also is president of the ESO’s board, a position she previously held from 2005 to 2009. Additionally, she serves as chair of the publicity committee and is an active member of the fund development, strategic planning and finance committees.
Kraft’s affection for the stringed instrument dates back to third grade, when she picked up the violin for the first time. She had been playing the guitar since age five, but her hands were small, which made it difficult for her to hone her skill. The violin, however, seemed like the perfect substitute.
“The violin felt very comfortable and actually fit my hand,” she says.
Kraft continued to play through high school but ultimately gave it up so she could enter the work force at age 19.
After five years as manager of a chain of furniture stores, she purchased Valley Pool & Spa from her grandfather Jim Harding. She later founded RB Control Systems in 2003 and expanded her retail operations to two additional locations in the Pittsburgh area between 2007 and 2012.
For 20 years Kraft’s instruments collected dust as she dedicated herself to a burgeoning career. But in 2001, the entrepreneur rekindled her relationship with the instrument.
“I just picked up my violin one day and it all came back to me,” she explains. “I realized I missed it.”
Kraft, however, wanted a more structured routine to keep her engaged and in top form, so a few months later, she auditioned for the Edgewood Symphony Orchestra and has been a member for 11 years.
Overseeing the operations of two businesses can be demanding, but Kraft still finds the time to practice. In addition to rehearsing with the group for 2.5 hours every week, she studies independently for at least an hour up to four times a week. The regular routine helps to prepare her for the symphony’s six to 12 annual concerts, which in the past have included very challenging pieces such as Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, and her favorite, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. It also serves as a welcome respite from her daily responsibilities.
“Playing the violin takes my mind away from everything else,” she notes. “Between the pool and the software business, it’s the only thing that I do to truly forget about work because I have to concentrate on the music and what I’m doing. It’s a good release for me.”
Ironically, the very thing that helps her forget about her profession also serves as a reminder about the importance of having a strong, well-trained staff.
“When you’re playing as a group, one player depends on the others and each section depends upon the other sections as well,” she explains. “If a symphony doesn’t play well together, it doesn’t sound good. It’s the same thing with a business. If a staff doesn’t work well together, you’re not as profitable as you should be.”
Working on the board also has prompted her to make some changes to her own business practices. As a result of her tenure, she has learned to better time her staff meetings and share minutes from the meetings with her crew so each member knows his or her responsibilities after the meeting.
Of course, Kraft has brought some of her business savvy to the organization as well. Prior to her appointment, the symphony was highly regimented and didn’t have a free forum that supported creativity, she said. However, as chair she encouraged the group to talk freely about things they felt were important, much like how she ran her own companies.
One idea the group embraced was the implementation of an internship program. Kraft already has developed a similar arrangement at RB Control Systems and believed it could benefit the symphony. Last year, she and the board welcomed its first student from the Master of Arts Management program at Carnegie Mellon University. It was so successful that the intern was voted onto the board and now is a volunteer.
“After dealing with students for 20 years in business, it was an idea I thought would really help the organization and be great for a student to learn how to actually manage or run a nonprofit symphonic organization,” she notes.
This year, as the symphony celebrates its 25th anniversary, it will bring on a new intern to prepare for the many events planned throughout the season, including the groups first-ever performance at the Carnegie Music Hall of Oakland in Pittsburgh.
“It’s really fulfilled my life with something I love to do. It’s something I am passionate about. I enjoy playing but it is also very gratifying to build a non-profit and keep it running,” she says.
Take a bow
- A symphony is made up of five string sections: first violin (melody), second violin (harmony), viola, cello and bass.
- Unlike the guitar, which typically involves chords and strumming multiple strings simultaneously, a violinist usually plays single, individual notes. When two strings of a violin are played together, it’s called a double stop.
- The bow is what provides the instrument’s volume level and timbre (tone quality) which is achieved by a number of techniques such as legato (a smooth stroke), ricochet (a springing stroke), sautillé (rapid bounce), martelé (hammered accent), spiccato (controlled bouncing) and staccato (light, short stroke).
- The ‘Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri, dubbed the Mona Lisa of violins, was up for sale in 2010 with an asking price of $18 million, the most expensive musical instrument in history.