Musician Spotlight: Stringy Business

KSO Cellist and Owner of Wilhite Strings rents instruments to area students, furthers their music education


Bruce Wilhite has played cello with the Knoxville Symphony for more than 25 years. He was a full-time core member from 1980-2003 at which point he transitioned to a per service member of the cello section.  He opened his shop, Wilhite Strings, in 1997. Because he was also an adjunct professor of cello at the University of Tennessee at the time, the shop was opened with retirement in mind. About his time, Bruce says, “I had to make a choice, because there are only so many hours in the day!”

Wilhite Strings is a full service violin shop, providing instruments for sale as well as for rent. “I have three full-time luthiers who can do almost any repair. We specialize in violin family instruments (violin, viola, cello and bass). If you have a band instrument, don’t come here because we won’t know how to fix it!”

Most of Wilhite Strings’ rentals are for school children. The length of time a student rents an instrument varies, and Wilhite goes to the schools to provide exchanges when a student grows out of a small size and needs to “move up.” The shop provides rentals to the Knoxville, Maryville, Oak Ridge, Kingsport and Johnson City school systems. Bruce says they also do repair work for players at UT and ETSU. There are approximately 1,100 rentals out currently and the shop keeps instruments in stock for sale.

“I knew Knoxville didn’t have a real violin shop. There is a fine instrument maker, Kelvin Scott, in the area and he makes great instruments, and that’s what he wants to do and is world renowned for it. What we’re trying to do is serve the community by providing string instruments and allowing more kids to have the chance to play music.”

What we’re trying to do is serve the community by providing string instruments and allowing more kids to have the chance to play music.” – Bruce Wilhite, owner of Wilhite Strings and KSO cellist

Bruce’s father was one of the original violinists in the Knoxville Symphony. While in the 5th grade at Belle Morris Elementary in North Knoxville, Bruce had the opportunity to choose an instrument. Wanting to be slightly different from his father, Bruce chose the cello and played for 2 years, but stopped because there were no junior high and high school orchestra programs. Wilhite’s parents then arranged for him to take private lessons through high school.

“I started at UT in Engineering. Back then, I had an aunt who gave her nieces and nephews a trip to Europe when they each graduated high school. I decided to do a music study trip. So I spent the summer in Salzburg and took classes and cello lessons. I was really revved up to play music after that.”  After one quarter, he switched to music as a cello major. He received a Bachelor’s in Music at UT and a Master’s from the Cincinnati Conservatory. He completed a one-year artist’s program before returning to Knoxville and winning his cello audition for the Knoxville Symphony.

Wilhite Strings also services violins and bow repairs to members of the KSO. Many of the core players in the KSO teach private lessons on the side. Bruce says one of the benefits the KSO brings to the community is attracting high level professionals to teach our kids. He says he can tell the overall level of string education has gone up considerably since the KSO hired full-time players.

“The ancient Greeks put music on the same level as they did mathematics and languages, and for good reason. They knew the developmental benefits of the mental stimulation as well as physical ability. They understood that. Unfortunately today, not all education programs understand that.”

Bruce believes it is important for high schools to offer an orchestra program. “What’s important, in the end, is not that everyone becomes a great soloist. Playing music is supportive of brain development and hand-eye coordination. And a student’s hard work and discipline is reflected in their GPA.”

View the full video interview with Bruce here.

Comments are closed.