NYU Choral Director and Music Education professor, Nancy Shankman has established herself as a woman who knows how to get people of all ages singing together. She’s brought together choirs from public schools to parents in the waiting room of their child’s choir. Nancy discusses the importance of singing together at any age!
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Today, I speak with Nancy Shankman, choral director and music education professor at the NYU Steinhardt School of Music Nancy describes herself as a choral director, musician, and overall creative personality. Her purpose is to make music and engage her students in the making of music as well. When she’s not doing that, Nancy adds, she doesn’t feel fulfilled.
Nancy Shankman, former Director of Music for the New York City Public Schools, brings to the Music Education Program at NYU the benefit of her many years of experience as a music and choral conductor, music educator and outspoken advocate for quality arts education. She served as the liaison between the Department of Education and the cultural community of New York City, expanding the walls of the classroom by encouraging collaboration among teaching artists, performing ensembles and schools. Ms. Shankman conducted the choir at Hostos Community College, served as Director of Creative and Performing Arts for Bronx High Schools, chaired the Department of Music and the Arts at Columbus High School and held the post of Arts Coordinator in Community School District 7. She designed and developed music programs and curriculum, most recently creating the Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Arts in collaboration with the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera Guild, Jazz at Lincoln Center and other arts and cultural organizations. In March of 2002, Ms. Shankman was honored by the Music Educators Association of New York City and in April of the same year, was recognized by the Bronx Museum of the Arts for her outstanding contributions to Bronx schools. In May of 2003, her work was cited by the New York Assocation for Supervision and Curriculum Development, and in December of 2005, she was privileged to receive the Outstanding Educator of the Year Award from the New York State School Music Association. Nancy Shankman has performed in musical theater at venues throughout the northeast. She conducts the NYU Madrigal Singers and welcomes the oppurtunity to work with the faculty and students at the university.
The moment you knew you’d dedicate your life to music
Nancy has been involved in music since age 5 when her mother bought a used piano and began giving her piano lessons. She loved it and never had to be forced to practice. She continued to play, sing in choirs, and was privileged to attend the NY High School of Music and Arts, now LaGuardia High School. Upon entering the high school, she decided to study voice. Nancy loved to perform and enjoyed doing summer stock community theater, but she especially loved working with children so decided to major in music education. So while there may not have been a defining moment, there were many great musical experiences that led to Nancy’s career choice, she explains.
During college, Nancy student taught in the South Bronx at a middle school with many 1st generation American students. Luckily, her supervising teacher was retiring at the end of the year and Nancy was able to land that job. She felt strongly that in this position she was able to give music to a population that didn’t have it before. “Music is a birthright, not a privilege,” she maintains. (Listen to hear more about Nancy’s career in the South Bronx and with the NYC Department of Education.)
Through her career, Nancy became adept at starting “impromptu” choirs including a faculty choir in the school where she taught and even parent choirs in the places where her son took private music lessons! She became skilled at working with choirs of all levels and experiences. (Listen to hear more about Nancy’s “pop-up” choirs!) After her public school teaching experience, Nancy came to NYU and started teaching in the music education department. It was the only time she and her husband – also a music teacher – ever worked in the same place. (Listen to find out why they don’t share an office!) While she enjoys teaching her classes at NYU, Nancy immediately missed directing a choir but after a few years was able to start a madrigal choir that continues to blossom under her baton.
Worst musical moment
Nancy notes that she once did a concert that included a piece of music that wasn’t really working for her students. However, she was determined to do it anyway. The result was a disaster. She learned from that moment that after two weeks of working on a piece that’s not gelling, it’s time to throw it away. “The success of your choir depends on your repertoire and how it fits the choir you’re directing,” she adds, noting that she learned a valuable lesson that year, adding that it’s important to remember that the “flavor-of-the-month” doesn’t always fit your ensemble.
Nancy is clearly an expert at starting choirs, even in places where the need or desire for a choir may not be immediately apparent. Many of these choirs happen with inexperienced singers who just want to sing. These are the most rewarding, she notes.
Nancy has recently started a choir of parents whose children sing in a youth choir at NYU. She finds the mix of experienced and inexperienced singers to be both interesting and challenging. (Listen to discover how Nancy chooses repertoire, plans her rehearsals, and makes it an experience that encompasses both the skilled and unskilled singer.)
Nancy urges conductors to remember that not all choir members want the same experience that you had! Her goal is simply to develop in her singers a lifelong love of choral singing, no matter their age or experience. She notes that you – the conductor – should have a clear knowledge of your students and what they can do. Then you meet them there and work to bring them up.
Most excited about right now
Nancy loves the parent choir she’s working with at NYU! They are so eager to sing, she notes, and they don’t have to worry about what grade they’ll get at the end of the semester!
Most favorite concert attended
Nancy fondly remembers attending a stage performance of Sweeney Todd with the NY Philharmonic. Stephen Sondheim was present. It may not have been the most stellar performance of the music from that show but it was the most heartwarming, she explains, especially with the composer/lyricist in the audience.
Stephen Sondheim – Finishing the Hat. In this book he talks about his entire career. It’s a coffee table-type book but fascinating to read