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Alumnus Stephen Shook is Still Striking Up The Band


Stephen Shook (B.M. ′74, M.M. ′83) is neither one to brag nor harp on about his career. In fact, it was his sister, Pauline Shook Giacobone, who shared his story with us in the first place.

He’s an awesome guy, graduated with honors, and credits the WMU Music Department with inspiring him to continue on in his chosen degree and profession right up to the current day,” she said. “I’m so impressed that he’s begun this new career at the beginning of his eighth decade.”

The new career Pauline is speaking of is serving as “the music director and conductor of the Northern Virginia Community Orchestra, an ensemble composed of professional and amateur musicians, who perform concerts for the community,” Stephen said.

Shook ConductingFounded in 2021, the Northern Virginia Community Orchestra is a nonprofit organization that also includes the Northern Virginia Community Strings, which consists of amateur musicians who rehearse intermediate string orchestra literature.

In addition to having a long career in music education, Stephen raised five children with his wife, JoEllen, and worked as a flight attendant for 24 years for U.S. Airways (now American Airlines). “I’d add that Steve grew up on a farm in Kalamazoo County in a family of 10, ALL of whom attended WMU,” Pauline said, “and three of whom also obtained music degrees from Western.”

A first-generation college student and music education major, Stephen received an academic grant and music scholarship at WMU. His mother was a piano teacher and made sure he and his siblings had piano lessons growing up. “Music was one of the most successful activities I did in high school,” he said, “and I’m most proud of the over 40 years I’ve had of teaching music to young people.”

Stephen taught music in public schools in both Michigan and Virginia and is still an orchestra substitute teacher in Fairfax (VA) County Schools. He also has a private violin/viola studio.

During his time at Western, he played in the University Symphony as a violinist, and enjoyed attending concerts, plays and movies. Stephen credits the symphony’s conductor, the late, great Herbert Butler, as well as violin professors Olive Parkes, Julius Stulberg, Sylvie Gazeau and Gerald Fischbach, for making a difference for him.  

Outside of playing music, his favorite memory of WMU is walking around and getting to know every corner of campus. “As nice as the Dalton Center is,” Stephen adds, “I still miss [Harper] Maybee Music Hall.”

A School in Tune with Excellence

In case you didn’t know, here are a few facts about the Irving S. Gilmore School of Music at Western Michigan University:

  • Ranks in the top 15% of 1,476 music schools in the United States ("Music Colleges")
  • Ranks in the top 5 for number of awards received in the annual DownBeat Magazine Student Music Awards for jazz students
  • Music therapy program ranked #5 in 2022 in “The 20 Best Music Therapy Bachelor Programs” by The Best Schools
  • Kalamazoo ranks in “The Top 10 Best Places For Music Students” by Music School Central
  • University Symphony Orchestra named one of "The 20 Most Impressive College Orchestras in America" by Online Schools Center
WMU School of Music

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