Out of all of Settlement’s faculty members, Jean Louise Shook might spend the most time on stage.
That’s not because she has the busiest performing career – though she is a very active performer. Over the years, she has played violin with the Danoff String Quartet and played both violin and piano and recorded a CD with the Elysian Camerata.
Jean takes the title because she’s the go-to accompanist for student recitals and concerts throughout the year. She accompanies students of all ages and on nearly all instruments – strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, and voice – and during the summer months, she also accompanies a yearly voice workshop led by voice faculty Judith Turano. In addition, she also accompanies and coaches students of Lee Snyder and Kim Fisher, both Settlement violin faculty, each week.
She studied piano with Temple University professor George Sementovsky, who taught her the art of accompanying. She explains her accompanying philosophy: “Accompanying is chamber music. It’s like playing second violin in a quartet” – something with which she has a great deal of experience – “You provide harmonic and rhythmic structure, color, emotional character, dynamics, drama and mood which support and enhance the soloist’s musical line. Sometimes the piano part is the solo line. The interplay between the two voices creates the completeness of the piece. We inspire and respond to each other’s musical expression.”
Apart from her accompanying, Shook spends plenty of time at the piano working on pieces for herself; over the summer, she listed Chopin etudes, Scriabin and “French music” as current favorites and subjects of study. “And Bach’s Italian Suite,” she adds. “Every so often, you have to go back to Bach. His compositions keep your music and your life centered by making your fingers strong and accurate, challenging your analytical abilities, and purifying your soul.”
Despite all the time devoted to piano, she’s not a member of the piano faculty at Settlement – she teaches violin and chamber music at four of the School’s branches.
Having started violin at age 9 and piano at age 10, both instruments have been part of her life for many years. During her violin undergraduate studies at Temple University, she was encouraged to become a piano major and a voice major. She chose the violin as her primary focus of study, thus enabling her to explore orchestral and chamber music.
During her college studies, she had no interest in teaching. “I was very shy and not very talkative,” she says. “I had no teaching experience, and therefore had no concept of the joy of teaching.”
This year, as she marks 40 years of teaching at Settlement, it’s interesting to hear how Shook got started in a profession she was sure she wouldn’t enter. It took filling in for her teacher Edgar Ortenberg, former second violinist of the Budapest String Quartet and a legendary violin instructor both at Settlement and at Temple University – to orient her toward teaching others.
She quotes Ortenberg as saying, “When teaching my students, you need to maintain their present playing level – but do not let them get worse.” Upon his return, he said, “Well, they didn’t get worse. In fact, they didn’t stay the same – they got better. I think you should seriously consider teaching as your profession.” And so her career began.