It all began in the 1990s when violinmaker Robert Brewer Young, as an apprentice to a renowned luthier in New York, learned that a working orchestra continued to play every day in Sarajevo during its siege, practically under gunfire. Robert grabbed a box and knocked on the door of every violin shop in Manhattan until the box was filled up with strings and other supplies for musicians. The box was brought to Sarajevo and the same collection was repeated a year later.

Following that, Robert began to donate considerable time and effort to repair and maintain damaged violins, violas, and cellos owned by the Third Street Music Settlement, the New York City public school system, and others, including Roberta Guaspari of Opus 118, the Harlem School for Strings featured in the film “Music of the Heart.” Hundreds of discarded instruments were put back into the hands of budding musicians by his efforts. 

Robert also provided instruments for orchestras at schools for the blind in New York and Calcutta and established violin programs for indigenous communities in the southwest United States. A number of students who benefited from his contributions have, in the intervening years, graduated from prestigious music schools and are now enjoying thriving professional careers.

While working for prominent soloists on violins made by Stradivari and Guarneri in the studios of Carnegie Hall, Robert made concert quality instruments available to young professionals who could not afford them and put historical violins, violas and cellos into the hands of promising musicians. Broken fiddles were turned into collections worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Robert co-founded The Open String in 2014 with long time friends Elfin Vogel and Lucien Jamey to continue this practice of community service at a higher, broader level and to share the opportunity with other interested supporters as well.