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Accomplished Blugold follows 'offbeat' vision, thrives on lifelong learning

| Diane Walkoff

“It was all Nobu,” says Rose (Johnson) Vincent when describing her decision to attend UW-Eau Claire. “Nobu was here, so why would I leave Eau Claire and go somewhere else?”

Rose, an Eau Claire native and 2004 UW-Eau Claire music performance graduate, is referring to Nobuyoshi “Nobu” Yasuda, professor of music and director of the University Symphony Orchestra and the Chippewa Valley Symphony. Having attended local concerts and seeing him in action, Rose was familiar with Nobu’s passion for music and talents as a teacher and conductor.

Rose, who fell in love with the violin after playing her first “scratchy notes” at age 13, knew she wanted to pursue a music performance degree even as a high school student. There was never any question in her mind that she wanted to be a musician — and she knew she’d need college training and a degree to succeed in the performance world.

A perceptive musician from the beginning, Rose’s initial thoughts about Nobu and the UW-Eau Claire music program were solidified during her university audition.

“Nobu asked me what I wanted to do and how he could help me get there,” Rose remembers. “It was a great question. I thought for a second and then said, ‘I want to learn to improvise.’ And he responded, 'OK, I can teach you technique and you can use that for whatever you decide to do.’”

That answer was all Rose needed to hear. She appreciated every minute of her hourlong lessons with Nobu during her four years at UW-Eau Claire and soaked up everything the accomplished teacher and conductor could share with her. His encouragement and inspirational words meant the world to her, especially during the inevitable struggles that most college students encounter.

“The UW-Eau Claire performance major was the best thing I could've done,” Rose says. “And having a mentor like Nobu made all the difference to me as a college student. Just knowing that he had confidence in me propelled me forward.”

‘Offbeat’ path

After graduation Rose continued to teach the dozen or so students she had acquired during high school and college. During a brainstorming session with her dad, Rose came up with the name “Offbeats” for her teaching studio.

“I always felt like I did things a little differently, in my own offbeat way. I didn’t want to be like everyone else,” Rose says, joking that at certain points in her early training she also had a hard time counting the offbeats in challenging music. “Now I love offbeats — and so do all my students!”

Rose subsequently received a call that would change her professional direction considerably. Having established herself as a sought-after musician and teacher, Rose was well-connected within the Eau Claire music community. So when a fellow violinist called to ask if she could sub for a bluegrass gospel band gig, she took a leap of faith.

“I had never performed bluegrass music, so hadn’t realized that it mainly involved improvisation,” Rose says. “The other band members laughed when I took out my songbook!”

With her extensive musical and technical training, Rose caught on quickly to improvisation and ended up touring with the band for five years while maintaining her teaching studio.

“It was a great way to spend those years, build on my improvisational skills and jam with awesome people!” Rose says.

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Rose (Johnson) Vincent '04 works on a violin repair.

While touring with the band, Rose also met her husband, John Vincent, a fellow bluegrass fiddler, guitarist and luthier — an expert in string instrument repair and restoration. John’s profession and alma mater in Red Wing, Minnesota, were close to Rose’s heart. She had taken a course in bow repair there — and had learned some basics about violin maintenance as well.

“My violin was basically falling apart, and I couldn’t afford a better one at the time,” Rose says. “So I learned how to keep mine in working order as long as I could.”

Business growth

That pioneering spirit has served Rose well. After they married in 2011, John and Rose became not only life partners, but business partners as well. Offbeats, then located on Eau Claire’s west side, expanded from being solely a teaching studio to one that included string instrument repair and restoration as well as an instrument buying and selling component.

“I admit that I was a little scared to expand the business,” Rose says, “But John was confident, so we jumped right in.”

As their business grew, the Vincents looked into buying a building rather than continuing to rent. And downtown Eau Claire captured their attention.

“My dad (former Eau Claire superintendent of parks Phil Johnson) had helped design Phoenix Park a few years earlier, which was absolutely amazing to me,” Rose says. “Growing up in Eau Claire, that area of downtown had been kind of a scary place. When my dad told me he was going to make it into a beautiful park, I laughed! The transformation of Phoenix Park and downtown has been incredible.”

Realizing that buildings downtown could become scarce after the success of Phoenix Park and the inception of the Confluence Project — the new performing arts, residential and retail complex currently under construction — the Vincents acted on their idea.

They entered Downtown Eau Claire Inc.’s Jump-Start Downtown competition for entrepreneurs interested in opening a business in downtown Eau Claire. Their high-quality business plan earned them DECI’s $5,000 prize in 2014. It was the extra boost they needed to acquire and renovate their current building to house Offbeats Violin & Guitar at 307 S. Farwell St.

Downtown location

Visitors to Offbeats are in for a fascinating sight behind the building’s glass doors. Along with a multi-room teaching studio, the shop houses a restoration and repair workshop that brings to mind visions of 18th-century European luthiers. Violins and other string instruments in all stages of repair and creation line the walls. Some are held together with clamps, while others appear to be gleaming works of fine art.

Amazing as it may seem, people throw away musical instruments like common trash. Turning one person’s trash into another’s treasure is one of the things the Vincents find most gratifying about their business. Rose shares the story behind one of the violins, which rests on a table.

“This one’s going to be a beauty,” she says with a proud smile. “We found it in a trash heap near an ‘instrument graveyard.’”

Throughout their success and growth in the past five years, the Vincents have never lost sight of their love for music or their mission to share it with others. And every day, Rose uses what she learned at UW-Eau Claire more than a decade ago.

"Nobu taught me to not just play a scale, for example, but to make every note count. And he never accepted his students being less than 100 percent in,” Rose says. “We strive for those same standards in all aspects of our teaching and business.”

And although the Vincents travel extensively to buy and sell instruments for the shop, they’re always eager to return home to Eau Claire.

“Eau Claire has been so good to us,” Rose says. “We’re incredibly thankful for all of the opportunities that have come our way.”

Photo caption: Rose (Johnson) Vincent '04 and her husband, John, jam in the string instrument studio at their shop, Offbeats Violin & Guitar, in downtown Eau Claire.