12 January 2006
Barbara Shearer, one of the Bay Area's best-loved concert pianists and music teachers, died Dec. 6 of natural causes, in Oakland.
Shearer was born in 1936, in Ottawa, Ill., and spent her childhood in the rural Midwest. She attended Carthage College for two years, then Wittenberg University in Ohio, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in music. On the advice of her teachers she went to New York in 1958 to study piano with Leonard Shure, whom she later followed to Zurich and Munich. A later influence was Karl Ulrich Schnabel, from whom she received valuable coaching and with whom she taught as a colleague.
In 1963 Shearer was about to take a teaching job in New York, but literally changed directions when one of her teachers in Ohio dissuaded her, offering to buy her a bus ticket to San Francisco instead. She did graduate work at Berkeley, and in 1964 married singer and composer Allen Shearer, a music department lecturer in voice.
Shearer, who recorded music of Schumann and Chopin on the Alba Artists label, was a popular performer whose Bay Area concerts regularly attracted overflow audiences. She performed solo, with chamber ensembles, and in song recitals with her husband and many other singers throughout Northern California and on the East Coast, and in Mexico and Italy. She lived for two years in Salzburg, Austria, and one year at the American Academy in Rome, during which time she gave a solo recital at the Vienna Konzerthaus. She gave other memorable performances with the UC Symphony, San Francisco Community Orchestra, Mendocino Festival Orchestra, and the Orchestra Sinfonica della RAI (Rome).
Shearer taught in the Young Musicians Program at Berkeley in its formative years, inaugurating a program whereby pianos were donated to students in the program - delivered to their homes by volunteers. In 1978 she joined the music department piano faculty, where she taught for nearly 25 years. Legions of musicians remember her as a mentor - a powerful, inspiring artist who always sought to bring out the best in her students and colleagues.
Recalls department lecturer Michael Seth Orland: "I never studied with Barbara, but, soon after I finished at Berkeley, she asked me to play concerto orchestral reductions on the piano, with her playing the solo part to help her get the music in her ear beforehand. She was one of the kindest and most humane musicians I ever remember working with, and, especially because I was a generation younger, I felt grateful to have the chance to work with her and to hear her advice and concerns."
Shearer is survived by her husband. Donations in Shearer's memory may be made to the Southern Poverty Law Center or the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.
A memorial will be held on Sunday, Jan. 22, at 1:30 p.m. in the Golub Home Room at International House, 2229 Piedmont Ave. At 3 p.m. there will be a concert of chamber and choral music in Hertz Hall, a short walk away. Call 654-8651 for information.
- David Whitman