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Marina Kun tends to brush off the idea that she did something special when she started helping her late husband sell a device he invented to ease the physical strain of playing the violin.
But consider the facts. Under Marina’s leadership, the company that Joseph Kun founded in 1972 to manufacture the device, a shoulder rest that attaches to the instrument to improve ergonomics, has grown to become a market leader, with patents in more than 100 countries. It is used by millions of violinists (and violists) around the world, including Canadian stars like James Ehnes, Lara St. John, and Chamberfest artistic director Carissa Klopoushak.
Perhaps most impressive is the company’s longevity. The Kun Shoulder Rest celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is still going strong, and is still made in Canada. While her daughter runs much of the business these days, for 46 years Marina led the business and built it into the global success it is today.
But during an interview at the grand old Centretown residence that serves as the company’s headquarters, Kun, who refuses to reveal his age, bristles at the suggestion that he has a brilliant business mind, instead attributing the success of the operation to common sense. and instinct.
For her, the ingenious part of all this is the device itself. It was a “much-needed” product, and she simply had to get it into the right hands, she says, overlooking her role in maintaining quality, creating new models and shutting down copycats.
“I thought it was a brilliant idea,” he says. “It is important to know that this did not exist before. Joseph created the market for shoulder rests: the demand was growing and we had to realize it”.
Of course, the story of the Kun Shoulder Rest begins with Joseph, a music teacher and instrument maker who was born in Czechoslovakia. After the Soviet Union invaded Prague in 1968, he left his homeland and moved to Ottawa because he had been told that the city was building a world-class arts center and would need the skills of people like him. (The National Center for the Arts opened in 1969.)
In Ottawa, Joseph established himself as a world-renowned bowmaker who could also fix the most valuable instruments. He was teaching violin when he and Marina, recently separated from four daughters, crossed paths. One of the girls wanted to learn the violin, so Marina signed her up for lessons with Joseph.
Born and educated in Ottawa, the daughter of an enterprising Lebanese family that ran several small businesses in the city, Marina always had a passion for music and regularly attended orchestra concerts on her own, even as a teenager. Joseph impressed her, not only with her skill and kindness as her teacher, but also with her creativity and artistic nature. Sparks flew. They married in 1979.
Joseph had already designed the armrest and had sold a few dozen by the time it arrived in Canada, but it was Marina who realized its potential, more so than Joseph, who had grown up under communism and, as she says, didn’t know it. I have a great nose for business.
Marina, who speaks four languages, jumped into the company and became a working mother at a time when women were expected to stay home and take care of children. She initially recruited her daughters to help her assemble the devices, while she went about the essential work of fending off competitors, pitching to vendors, obtaining patents, and developing new markets. She also traveled to conferences and trade shows around the world.
As the company grew, the Kuns also became philanthropists, supporting the arts in Canada and beyond, including funding a scholarship at the University of Ottawa and helping international organizations such as the Palestinian Youth Orchestra and the National Youth Orchestra. from Jamaica, to name a few.
The Ottawa Chamber Festival is a cause that remains close to the heart of Marina. She was among the patrons who helped found the festival 28 years ago, a couple of years after Joseph’s death, and remains a huge supporter, funding a concert series named after her that features a number of top-tier artists. . The Marina Kun cycle continues this week with Tafelmusik: La Stravagante on Thursday, Verona Quartet on Monday and Heinrich Alpers on Wednesday.
Also on the program is a concert marking the 50th anniversary of the shoulder pad company, the program organized with input from Kun’s family to reflect Marina’s eclectic musical tastes. With performances by violinists Lara St. John, Kelly Hall-Tompkins and Carissa Klopoushak, the Gryphon Trio and Juno-winning Afro-Cuban ensemble OKAN, organizers call it The Rest is History. It’s an appropriate title, no doubt.