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  • Writer's pictureWilliamsburg Funeral Home

Nadine E. Shank

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

Nadine E. Shank was born on October 10, 1954 in Akron, OH and died on October 8, 2020 in Amherst, MA. In May 2020, she was diagnosed with sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare and incurable form of rapidly progressive dementia.

She traced her roots to the Avery family, who moved from Groton, CT to the Aurora, OH area in 1814. Music was in Nadine's blood. Her parents (her mother, a vocalist; her father, a saxophonist) met in 1939 as members of a Big Band that played for dances during the WWII era in the greater Akron, Ohio area. They fully supported Nadine's early interest in the piano and, when she was just 10, bought her a Steinway grand piano that remained her lifelong favorite piano. Nadine enjoyed an especially close relationship with her mother, Geraldine. They exchanged daily letters during Nadine's college years and shared many travels and daily visits until Geraldine died this January at the age of 101.

Nadine attended elementary through high school in Akron at Our Lady of the Elms where she accompanied the choirs. She received a Van Cliburn Scholarship to the Interlochen National Music Camp. There, she won the concerto competition and played Prokofiev's Piano Concerto #1 with the Interlochen World Youth Symphony Orchestra. She attended Oberlin College, where one of her professors commented that Nadine was among the top three students he'd ever taught. She won the Rudolph Serkin Piano Scholarship as the outstanding piano major in her junior class. Upon graduation in 1976, Nadine enrolled at Indiana University's School of Music, where she refined her collaborative playing under Menachem Pressler and other fine pianists. She won IU's Concerto Competition in 1979.

After earning her Masters in Piano Performance from IU, Nadine at age 25 was chosen from over 100 applicants to join the piano faculty at UMass Amherst. Her initial responsibilities included teaching group piano to non-music majors in the Old Chapel. Later, she taught French art song and German lieder to pianists and singers alike, often singing the vocal line while playing the piano, as well as teaching sight-reading and collaborative piano. In 1989, she developed a Masters in Collaborative Piano degree that continues to place its graduates throughout the world. She served for many years at UMass as Area Coordinator of the Piano and Collaborative Piano Areas. She was principal orchestral pianist with the Springfield Symphony since 1984.

Nadine was a predictable presence either on the stage or in the audience at countless Five College music, dance and theater productions. She attended performances of the UMass orchestras, Wind Ensemble and choruses, and student and faculty recitals even of non-pianists; unless Nadine had a rehearsal or concert herself, she'd be there. One faculty member remarked, "Nadine played in and attended more concerts in a year than most of us do in a lifetime."

Although Nadine chose a career as a collaborative pianist, she soloed with the Springfield Symphony, UMass Wind Ensemble, UMass Orchestra and Chorus and her beloved US Army Band at West Point. Nadine for many years sought spirituality in Buddhism but, with no moral contradiction, strongly supported the US military bands. Her father, Wayne Shank, who passed away in 1980, had fought his way in WW ll from Sicily and the Solerno and Anzio beachheads north through Italy as a US infantryman. Wayne's playing the saxophone inspired Nadine to specialize in piano-saxophone collaboration. She was thought to have more of this literature under her fingertips than any other pianist in the world.

Nadine relished her role as a collaborative pianist, emphasizing the melodic line whether played by the soloist or herself. She had a remarkable ability to sight read. From a colleague: "Her pianistic excellence, her remarkable dexterity and phenomenal ability to learn huge difficult pieces of music established her as an outstanding instrumental and vocal partner." What might take other pianists weeks or months to master, Nadine would have concert-ready in just days. As a result, her repertoire was vast, her studio's walls lined with sheet music from the baroque to the most contemporary pieces demanding extended piano techniques and complex rhythms. No matter how difficult the music or short the notice, Nadine performed flawlessly in over a thousand performances at UMass and national and international venues. Nadine recorded 18 CDs, including several "Play-Along" CDs for saxophone and clarinet that have been used by educators and students for several decades.

Nadine was an incorrigible shopper. Her condo was filled with chic artwork by local and international artists as well as prized kitsch from her springtime holidays spent in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. "Just doing my part to help the local economy." Summers, she predictably stopped at the Route 47 open-air flea market going to or coming from her Sunday performances as church pianist/organist and often both ways! In secondhand stores, she sought out vintage sequined gowns and blouses to perform in, usually changing at intermission to model a recent purchase.

Nadine loved dogs, road cycling, hiking, line dancing, drum and bugle corps competitions, jazz, good food and her many dear friends. She served as church pianist/organist almost every Sunday in the greater Northampton area since 1980. When people came up to greet Nadine in local stores, it was rarely to congratulate her on a recent performance. Rather, it was to thank her for her imaginative programming of music (Country & Western, hip-hop, Broadway, classical) to accompany the intense aerobics and spinning classes she led for decades in local health clubs. Nadine had an operatic voice. When she attended UMass basketball and football games, people many rows below turned to see who was singing the National Anthem with such gusto.

On stage, her virtuosity dazzled audiences and her fellow performers; in her daily life, it was her generosity that shone continuously, moving former and current faculty, students and friends through her selfless giving of herself, her time and money. Many have remarked that Nadine's example set a high bar for how they live their professional and personal lives. Although she had no biological children, she nurtured hundreds of her "children" who are living throughout the world, inspired to carry on her legacy of kindness, warmth and inspired music- making.

Nadine's admirers are invited to join former and current faculty and students in donating to the Nadine E. Shank Piano Endowment Fund at the UMass Amherst Dept. of Music and Dance. She is survived by her husband, David Nielsen. Nadine will be buried in the Shank family gravesite in the Aurora (OH) Cemetery. Once the COVID restrictions are lifted, UMass will host a public celebration of her life with both musical and spoken tributes. Williamsburg Funeral Home has been entrusted with her cremation.

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