A final bow: Austin bids farewell to world-class pianist Ian Shapinsky

Published 8:14 am Friday, July 14, 2017

An unplayed piano sits stoically in the corner, its ebony and ivory keys not plucking the wires, filling the room with the sweet sounds of the various chords that stir the emotions. It sits in reverence of the musician who once played it; a silent tribute to the fingers that once danced across its keys.

World-class pianist Ian Shapinsky, 68, of Austin passed away on Thursday, July 6, at Mayo Clinic Rochester, Saint Marys Campus. He leaves behind his wife of 15 years, Katherine, and their twin teenage daughters, Ariana and Olivia.

Nathaniel Ian Shapinsky was born on June 20, 1949, in the borough of Manhattan in New York City, New York, the son of two cellists. He grew up on Long Island.

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“Ian was a very active little boy,” said Norma Shapinsky, Ian’s mother who, despite living in Carmel, California, over the past few years, has not lost any of her New York accent. “He loved to play baseball. He said he had to hit home runs because he was short and very thin and couldn’t run as fast as the bigger guys.”

Ian Shapinsky during a performance. Shapinsky always strove to be better.

Although his parents played the cello, Shapinsky wanted to play the piano after hearing his father, Aaron, who played for the New York City Ballet, accompany other pianists.

“We wanted to teach him the cello,” Norma recalled. “It would have been so much simpler; no going out for lessons. But, he wanted to play the piano. He wanted to play with his father.”

Inspired by musicians like New York City Ballet solo pianist Jascha Zayde, Shapinsky started taking piano lessons at age seven. By age nine, he was performing professionally.

“Ian would listen to [his father] playing with other pianists, then he would sit down and play by memory what the other pianists played,” Norma said. “You could wake him up in the middle of the night and sit him at the piano with his eyes still closed, but the fingers and the ear still works, and he could play.”

By age 15, Shapinsky was attending The Julliard School at the college level on a scholarship. Under the tutelage of Zayde, Ania Dorfmann and other prestigious instructors, Shapinsky honed his skills, receiving a Bachelor of Music and Masters of Science. He took several courses at New York University in pursuit of a doctorate, but did not have the time to finish.

Shapinsky toured the United States and Europe with his father, performing classical works at Carnegie Hall in New York City and venues in Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland. Over the course of his life, he performed in hundreds of concerts.

His performances won him many awards, such as Recitalist of the Year, the Presidential Citation from the New York Federation of Music Clubs, first prize from the Mannes College Concerto Competition, and first prize from the Five Towns Music and Art Foundation, to name a few.

Despite his accolades, like any true musician, he was not completely satisfied with his performances.

“With musicians, [your performances are] never supposed to be the best,” Norma said. “After a concert, no matter how beautifully it went, you always think, ‘I could be a little better,’ and you go home and you practice again.”

Ian Shapinsky plays with the Austin Symphony Orchestra. Photo provided

In 1986, Shapinsky moved to Rochester, Minnesota. It was there that he met his wife, Katherine.

He gave a concert at a small church near Rochester, “and I went and that’s how I met him,” she said.

When asked if it was love at first sight, Katherine laughed and said, “Something like that.”

The couple married in 2002 and settled in Austin, where Katherine had been working for Hormel Foods Corp. since 1978. Katherine gave birth to twin daughters Ariana and Olivia.

“He loved his kids,” Katherine said. “We had them later in life, but he always wanted children.”

“I would ask him, ‘How are the kids?’” Norma said. “He’d say, ‘Marvelous!’”

While in Austin, Shapinsky taught piano at the MacPhail Center for Music-Austin, a position he held until his death.

The loss of Shapinsky has left a void in the lives of those who knew him and in the world of music.

“He enjoyed playing for the nursing homes in town,” Katherine said. “He played at St. Mark’s, Sacred Heart and The Cedars. Many of his students were upset about his death.”

Katherine said Shapinsky was working on original music at the time of his death.

Although Shapinsky has passed away, his music lives on. Some of his performances can be heard at www.ianshapinsky.com. He also released two albums, “Live in Concert” and “Piano Virtuoso.”

“He had a marvelous sense of humor,” Norma said. “That’s a virtue since life is never easy for performers. It takes constant daily work. It’s like preparing muscles for any athletic endeavor. [Music] is like baking a cake. You need the notes, you need the tempo, you need the loud and soft, and then you make music out of it.”