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Student newspaper of Strath Haven High School

Panther Press

Student newspaper of Strath Haven High School

Panther Press

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Mr. John Shankweiler retires after 40 years of musical excellence

After four decades of inspiring young musicians, Shankweiler is bidding farewell to Strath Haven.
Matthew Ramirez
Music Director John Shankweiler addresses the audience at the Wallingford Community Arts Center during the Silvertones Twelfth Night Revelry concert fundraiser on Saturday January 7, for their spring trip to Sicily, Italy.

As Mr. John Shankweiler retires, his legacy in music and performing arts will continue to impact the community.

Shankweiler’s career in music education started in 1984 after taking advice from Mr. Jack Hontz, late musical advisor, and Mr. Henry Pearlberg, past assistant director of the Strath Haven marching band, to help WSSD build their music program. From that point, he took on the role of leading the choral department and formed a string program.

“I was a vocalist and a string major at West Chester, so it fit. I loved the small-town community feel of Wallingford, Swarthmore, and Nether Providence,” Shankweiler said.

In 1985, Shankweiler formed the Silvertones, as a result of the growth of the school’s Camerata at that time, and it has become one of his most significant contributions to the choral department at  Strath Haven High School.

“Camerata became sort of the exclusive auditioned choir that went from seventeen to forty people during my first year, so I came up with an auditioned group that had around sixteen voices,” Shankweiler said. “I didn’t have a name for the program, so I went to the secretary of the principal at the time, who remembered that there was a radio called the Silver Tone, and that’s where the name came from.”

Along with his many achievements, Shankweiler has also had to navigate through hurdles and find ways to work through them with his students.

“I think the biggest challenge over the years was how we are still affected by the pandemic,” Shankweiler said. “Because there’s that big sort of window and in tenth and eleventh graders, not that many people came over in vocal music. I could not be happier about the 9th to 12th grade classes, they are just great.”

Despite the difficulties that came with COVID, senior Silvertones member Aiden Gold recognizes that Shankweiler’s perseverance is what empowered him during that challenging time.

“He was making it work and his energy and that level of beauty in music at that time was exactly what I needed,” Gold said.

Similarly to how Hontz and Pearlburg impacted Shankweiler’s beginnings at Strath Haven, music teacher Mr. Nicholas Pignataro looks back at how helpful Shankweiler was to him at the beginning of his SHHS career.

“He made me feel like it was okay to be myself and to bring my own artistic vision,” Pignataro said. “Some of the artistic vision I had was different from Mr. Hontz’s, and that was okay for the program. He gave me the artistic license to be myself.”

Pignataro has built a valuable connection with Shankweiler both as an educator and person, and is thankful for their friendship.

“He’s probably the only person that I can talk to who appreciates art the way I appreciate musical art, and he’s always pushing me to think a little bit more grandly about the art that we’re doing,” Pignataro said.

Not only have his colleagues felt the impact of Shankweiler’s presence within the school community, but his students share how he has left a mark on them.

“My favorite memory with Mr. Shankweiler was being a part of Grease and Mean Girls. That sense of community really brought my heart great joy,” sophomore Katie Snyder said.

From theater productions to choral ensembles, Shankweiler has made a unique impact on each student that he has encountered.

“This is my first year doing Silvertones and through that, I’ve really seen how amazing he is, not only as a director, but as a person in general,” junior Silvertones member Sophie Lin said. “His musical talent and abilities have really driven the Silvertones to be such an amazing choral group, and to develop such good musicality.”

The annual Silvertones trip to Italy is something that members of the ensemble will never forget, as many memories and connections were formed.

“We were on the boat ride back from Stromboli, and Callie [Susek] and I were sitting with Shank,” senior Silvertones member Paige Trout said. “Everyone was on the verge of tears because there was a tropical storm, and we thought we were going to capsize. Shank was just smiling and telling a story about his new dog as people were puking all over.”

With Shankweiler retiring, it is expected that things will be different, but Pignataro explains that it is important to be open to this change.

“I think that they will see different music, and it will take several years for the new person to feel comfortable,” Pignataro said. “It took me about five to six years to feel comfortable with this job, because I think there’s such expectations of the way it should be. That person is going to have to learn to shed the Shankweiler way and to be their own person, the same way that I had to stop pretending to be Mr. Hontz.”

Shankweiler plans to have a retirement filled with relaxation and simplicity, spending lots of time with his wife and children.

“I’m off to Pittsburgh because my wife will be at Carnegie Mellon as an MFA Candidate for three years. I’m going to be living in Squirrel Hill, taking the girls to school, and going to Trader Joe’s every morning. We’ll get to live a very European life in Pittsburgh,” Shankweiler said.

When people look back at his time at Strath Haven, Shankweiler wants to be remembered for giving his students the opportunity to grow musically.

“By giving them really good musical experiences through major works of art, they are exposed to beauty through music,” Shankweiler said. “I just want them to know that it’s not going to happen today, it might happen in five or ten years, but they’ll realize that they were exposed to some pretty cool stuff.”

“It’s about the music, it’s always about the music,” he said.

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