After 44 years at his first job after college, David Shunskis is finally thinking about winding down.
As a member of the piano faculty, he’s split his time between the Germantown and Mary Louise Curtis Branches since 1971, when he finished his master’s degree at Temple University. Come the fall, he’ll be at Mary Louise Curtis only – a change in routine that has prompted some reflection.
“The school has maintained its standards all these years,” he says. “I think the quality of the students and teaching are what attracted me to the school.”
During his career at Settlement, in addition to providing individual piano instruction, Shunskis has coached chamber music groups, taught organ, and performed several concerts himself each year.
“I keep some time for myself to practice and prepare,” he says. Whether it’s a simple exercise or a Chopin etude that his students are attempting, “it’s very important to be able to demonstrate for them.”
He has also frequently made extra efforts to encourage his students, especially ones who return year after year for instruction. He recently assisted one of his students from the Germantown Branch with an audition video for a concerto competition; she prepared the solo part for Schumann’s Piano Concerto, and they recorded the piece together, with Shunskis playing the accompaniment, at the Mary Louise Curtis Branch. Shunskis notes that this student has studied with him for eight years now and also plays organ and violin – the type of exceptional student that comes along only rarely.
Having grown up in the Philadelphia area and attended Temple, the Philadelphia classical music scene has been an importance source of inspiration for Shunskis. He tries to pass along this love of performance by inviting students to Philadelphia Orchestra concerts.
“My wife and I buy three tickets, and so we always take a student,” he says. “You can watch concerts on YouTube, but you can’t beat a live concert and seeing it happening.”
His adult students, some of whom have studied with him for as long as 12 years, take part in other special musical events: occasional recitals and masterclasses that Shunskis hosts at his home. “Everyone plays, they catch up, there’s lots of sharing and playing duets,” he says.
That collaborative spirit comes up in the halls at Settlement, too. “It’s great having theory classes around the corner,” he says, referring to classes taught by some of his fellow faculty members. “They’re all very encouraging, supportive and appreciative.”