A Tribute to Dr. Sharon Shafer
A beloved music teacher since 1972
by Paige Blache Murphy
The summer of 2008 will start a new chapter in the life of Dr. Sharon Shafer, who has spent the last 36 years in musical harmony with Trinity. A trained and still performing soprano, Shafer began her career at Trinity in 1972 teaching a voice class. She also had a love for teaching composition (an accomplished composer herself), music theory, harmony and piano. Although she had been giving private lessons in piano and voice and taught in other venues, higher education struck a chord with her and Trinity became the beneficiary.
In 1974, just after earning her doctorate, Shafer learned that Trinity was in need of a music department chair. She was hired, taking on administrative duties and a full teaching load. Shafer started an opera workshop with fall and spring productions, and supported the glee club, which had a strong tradition at Trinity.
Trinity had long enjoyed an enthusiasm among students for music classes, but not all the major courses could be offered, and students had to take classes at area universities. This prompted Shafer to expand the curriculum so that students could complete their requirements at Trinity. Trinity also saw a shift in how students enrolled in music courses as Weekend College became a mainstay in the 1980s. Students from various majors enjoyed music and fine arts classes. Over time, however, the number of music majors began to decrease, and in 1996, music as a major was discontinued. But, music as a minor remained popular and music courses have seen increasing enrollments.
During Shafer’s tenure at Trinity, she has responded to the needs of the department and of the students. Trinity’s diversity and small size has afforded her the benefits of offering courses in specialized areas, such as jazz, that would not be possible at a larger school where only specialized faculty teach such music programs. While Trinity has benefited from a changing demographic and enriched diversity of students, Shafer has responded by offering classes and lecture recitals on women and African Americans and their rich histories as classical composers and performers. She regards the diversity of Trinity as an opportunity for all to learn more about women and ethnic minorities and their roles in the classics. Shafer also likes that students have had a greater ability to share their cultural identities in the classroom, providing greater potential for all to learn more.
While many of Shafer’s students have gone on to become successful musicians, she says that many have become successful in other areas, such as medicine and law. Shafer also diversified her talents at Trinity. She taught English 105 on several occasions and demands good writing skills from her students, stressing that attention to detail is important for success in any career.
Shafer has big plans after her teaching duties end in May. President Patricia McGuire granted her a three semester pre-retirement sabbatical during which time she will organize Trinity’s extensive collection of music files. Because of Shafer’s lengthy tenure, she has become quite familiar with the collection and is looking forward to spending some time with cherished musical memories. She will also sort through the extensive choral library of works that were performed by various choral groups at Trinity from the 1950s to the 1990s.
Retirement will also give Dr. Shafer an opportunity to re-live a brush with greatness. In the 1980s she met and became friends with Ruth Norman, an accomplished African-American musician, composer, and civil rights activist who lived in Washington for many years until her death in October of 2007. Shafer met Norman when she visited the college in 1985 for a Black History Month celebration. Norman gave a lecture recital on African-American piano composers, lecturing and then performing pieces on the piano, all without notes or sheet music. Shafer was truly impressed and inspired. Norman did years of research on the topic and composed a great deal of her own music. After Ruth Norman’s death, her son contacted Shafer and asked if he could give her his mother’s collection. Shafer was more than honored and will spend some post-retirement time creating a chronology of Norman’s compositions and identifying scores that should be transferred from her handwritten compositions to modern editions using computer notation software.
Shafer will continue to perform and give lecture recitals. Her last official Trinity performance was on March 26 in a recital where she was joined by two former students, Joellen Brassfield ’80 and Micky Shea Noble ’88. Sharon Shafer has made a true and lasting impact on Trinity, and she will be missed.