Learn From the Best: GRCC professor Shannon Shaker strives for more inclusive and equitable musical programming and practices

Grand Rapids Community College’s Dr. Shannon Shaker smiling and holding a conductor's baton.

A conductor uses a baton to lead a musical ensemble. Grand Rapids Community College’s Dr. Shannon Shaker 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 said.

“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 GRCC’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. 

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.

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