GRCC professor strives for more inclusive musical programming

As a conductor, Dr. Shannon Shaker uses a baton to lead a musical ensemble. She also believes it can also be used to lead social change.

“A music education student who only experiences music written by white men will only have those experiences to draw on later when they select the music to teach their own students,” Shaker says.

“But if we, as college band directors, diversify our repertoire and seek representation from women and minorities, we give our future music educators a whole world of composers to share.”

Shaker is Grand Rapids Community College’s new director of bands and the first woman to hold that post.

She’s also a fierce advocate for equitable and inclusive practices to ensure everyone has access to a high-quality music education. Her teaching, service and research are all driven by these values. 

Promoting works by women
For years the Pinconning native has worked to address gender bias in wind bands, especially in higher education.

“I was in my third year of graduate school when I realized I had never programmed one piece of music by a woman,” she said. “I hadn’t taken the time to learn any music by women composers or teach them to my students when I was teaching in public schools.”

This revelation prompted her doctoral research project at Arizona State University, “Paucity of Female College Band Directors as Faculty and Conductors at National Conferences in the United States, 2017–2018,” which showed that only 11% of all university band directors were women.

To encourage and support women composers, Shaker founded the Women’s Band Composition Contest in 2017. Through the contest, women composers connect with band directors from across the country and are provided opportunities for performances and collaborations.

The Women’s Band Composition Contest is on hiatus, but Shaker hopes it will return in 2023.

A first-generation classical musician and college student, Shaker earned both her Bachelor of Music Education and Master of Music in wind conducting degrees from Central Michigan University. She also holds a Doctor of Musical Arts in wind conducting from Arizona State University.

Raising awareness

Shaker is thrilled with her new role as director of bands and assistant professor in GRCC's highly acclaimed music department. GRCC is one of only two community colleges in the state that is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music.

“Shannon brings a very important perspective to the college and is helping all of us become more aware of gender inequity in college and university instrumental conducting positions,” music department Program Director Kevin Dobreff says.
Shaker says GRCC is supporting her quest for inclusive and equitable musical programming and practices.

“This department and the people in this school are seeking out diverse voices and people who are changemakers in their fields,” she says. “It’s great to be in a community where they see the value I bring to the table.”

Shaker said she believes no problem is too big to solve. So, she does her part by programming music in which her students can see themselves – and glimpse other cultures and experiences.

“I know I can’t change the whole world … but I can change my classroom.”

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.