David Blaise Kielar started violin lessons at age eight and enjoyed playing violin in orchestras and clarinet in marching and concert bands at Brookhaven Junior High School and Sun Valley High School, Aston, Pennsylvania. Then known as Dave Kielar, he received a degree in music from West Chester University in 1974, where he explored everything from Baroque performance practice to electronic composition with Moog synthesizer. He pursued a doctorate in music history at NYU, where he specialized in interdisciplinary Baroque arts and the 19th century New York composer George Frederick Bristow. Not finding a college teaching job, he changed career paths (with help from the book What Color Is Your Parachute?) and learned the skills of bow rehairing and restoration at William Moennig & Son in Philadelphia. 

In late 1978, his Southern roots (born in Virginia) called him to a more laid back lifestyle, and he opened a violin shop in Chapel Hill, NC. His partner in Hillmusic Fine Violins, R. Nowell Creadick, taught Old Time fiddle and banjo, and Blaise began to realize a long-standing dream to fiddle. Soon he discovered he liked Irish fiddle style better than Old Time and started to host weekly Celtic sessions at Hillmusic. A group formed of the regulars, called themselves “De Mairt,” which is Gaelic for “on Tuesday,” the night of the gathering. Shortly after that, Blaise joined a swing trio, where he also played clarinet. He began to get more comfortable with improvising and found that his classical playing became more relaxed. He gave lessons in classical violin as well as various fiddle styles.

1979, inside Hillmusic on Columbia Street

For 13 years he managed the violin shop, and helped many beginners and professionals find the perfect instrument or bow. During this period, he got divorced and shifted to using his middle name, Blaise. He studied the classic French methods of bow making with William Salchow. His electric violin journey began around 1986, when Hillmusic was an early dealer of Zeta violins. Blaise left Hillmusic in 1993, after rehairing more than 3000 bows.

Participating in one of Paul Winter’s Living Music Villages changed Blaise’s life. Besides further freeing up his improvisational abilities, he began to gather both players and non-musicians to make spontaneous music. The beauty of the music created, and the closeness of the community of those participating, inspired him to develop a course called “Improvising Music for Everyone.” Designed to help people get comfortable with the infinite possibilities of vocal and instrumental improvisation, Blaise’s course aimed to liberate everyone from the need to “play it right.”

As he saw how simple percussion instruments from various cultures could inspire creative music making, an idea formed for a new kind of music store. After a successful stint selling instruments on consignment at Earth and Spirit, a store on Durham’s Ninth Street run by fellow musician Lawrence Miller, Blaise joined the National Association of Music Merchants before attending the NAMM show in January 1999. In May, Blaise opened Music Explorium on Weaver Street in Carrboro. He retailed easy to play, creative and unusual strings, winds, electronics, and hand percussion from around the world and held workshops designed to inspire the musical adventurer. Community response inspired Blaise and his wife Cathy to study drum circle facilitation with Arthur Hull. Their regular community rhythm circles offered folks of all ages and abilities a forum to jam together, creating their own magical musical world – every time. Blaise was not shy about bringing his violin into a drum circle, either.

Who is this violinist joining the didgeridoo players at Arthur Hull’s big drum circle?

By 2002, the rising demand for the electric violins he carried prompted Blaise to found Electric Violin Shop (EVS) as a specialty division of Music Explorium with its own website. He and his staff had been discovered by people around the world who needed someone with expertise in the violin family as well as electronics, technology, and non-classical musical styles. EVS began to outpace Music Explorium, and EVS exhibited at the American String Teachers Association conference in Dallas in 2004. The shop has steadily grown since its move to Durham in 2005, and stocks a wild variety of gear for amplifying violins, violas, cellos and basses. EVS has shipped to over 80 different countries, 50 states and to all 7 continents.

2007, in front of the famous Electric Violin Wall

In 2007 Blaise joined The Alternative Board, a national organization that assembles business owners into groups to offer each other peer advice, like a board of directors would do at a large company. He was coached to write a detailed operations manual and think about the idea of an exit strategy. As time passed, he took pride in how well his employees assumed power in their areas of leadership. He slowly let go of selected managerial duties, choosing to stay focused on overall strategy and vision, while continuing to do payroll and bill paying. With retirement in mind, he spent several years unsuccessfully looking for a buyer. 

After a few months working with Anne Claire Broughton of Broughton Consulting LLC, she mentioned the idea of converting to a co-op owned by EVS staff, Blaise’s jaw dropped and he asked, “Is that possible?” Anne Claire provided the first referrals to experts in the community enterprise movement and to financial institutions that loan to workers for co-op conversions, and, in May 2016, the transaction was complete.

2016, with the new owners of Electric Violin Shop – Susie, Chris & Duncan

EVS is still a worker owned co-op, free to develop ever better ways to serve players of amplified strings. And Anne-Claire later expanded her commitment to small business by founding the North Carolina Employee Ownership Center. During Covid, NCEOC interviewed me about converting a retail music store into a worker-owned co-op. The video lives on the NCEOC website –
and on YouTube –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NI9RFwIwVk

Blaise began writing poetry in 1991. When he did readings from his 1997 collection, Poetry from An Expanding Cosmos, he added electric violin improvisations for events like Durham’s Eno River Festival and at eco-conferences with Thomas Berry and Matthew Fox. His non-fiction has appeared in Randell Jones’ Personal Story Publishing Project and in Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. He received Honorable Mention in the 2022 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize of the North Carolina Literary Review, and is currently querying the memoir, Be Heard: The Quiet Kid Who Started the World’s Loudest Violin Shop.

An improvising violin and clarinet player, he leads the Bulltown Strutters, Durham’s community New Orleans brass band and plays jazz with several other bands. Since starting to post a Joke of the Day in his front yard in April 2020, his world has truly revolved around Words, Music and Smiles!

Electric Violin Shop and Being Heard on a Stage

Playing a 7 string John Jordan in the sparkly Holoflash finish in 2007

People ask me why I started Electric Violin Shop, and why it continues to exist despite intense competition from huge corporations. My answer: I took on a personal mission of empowering string players to be heard in every performance setting. I had attended too many concerts where I could see how passionately the violinist was playing, yet I couldn’t hear them above drums or electric guitar. Sad to say, this still happens.

Whenever you play amplified in public – please – take as much time as needed to claim dominion over your sound. You may need to be assertive with the sound tech to EQ your tone and to keep you frontward in the mix. If they just EQ you like a guitar you will sound shrill, every time, because violin does not need the high frequency boost most guitars need. Bowed string output signal is more difficult to handle – guitars are much easier. 

Best case – if you have a wireless, walk into the hall and listen during your loudest song and judge how you sound. If you are wired, have a person who really knows your sound give their impression, and ask for PA adjustments until you know you sound good. When you take a solo, turn your volume up. All guitarists do this, and that way you turn yourself back down for accompanying. These two levels should also be set during sound check.

One of the original slogans of Electric Violin Shop was “Be Heard!” Please know that the staff of Electric Violin Shop is available to help you to always be heard!

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