Omri Shimron: Resident virtuoso

Omri Shimron often finds himself caught between two worlds. Born in Pittsburgh, Pa., but raised in Haifa, Israel, Shimron, assistant professor of music, has bridged those two worlds through music.

Omri Shimron joined Elon’s music faculty in 2008 and leads its music theory program.

Since he first started playing the piano at age six, he has connected with audiences around the world and, most recently, with students in Elon’s Department of Music. Shimron credits his environment in a performing arts high school in Israel and the mentorship he received there for his musical development.

“Israel is a unique place to get into music,” he says. “It’s a melting pot, with a lot of immigrants in a small place. You have access to many points of view.”

His music education took a hiatus when he served for three years in the Israeli military. Afterward Shimron returned to the United States and earned his bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Rochester. He later completed a master of music, master’s in music theory pedagogy and a doctor of musical arts degree at the Eastman School of Music. After teaching at Eastern Mediterranean University in Cyprus and Hillsdale College in Michigan, Shimron arrived at Elon, where has coordinated the music theory sequence and taught keyboard proficiency since 2008.

An active music scholar, Shimron says some of his biggest challenges come from making classical music relevant to today’s college students.

But teaching is only one part of Shimron’s musical career. He performs worldwide, giving recitals at Woflson College at Oxford University in England, the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France, and the SoundsCAPE festival in Pavia, Italy, among many other places. Regardless of the locality or the audience, Shimron knows there are certain things people are looking for in a performance.

“I think am a very articulate, expressive performer, a lyrical player, and not a fire and brimstone kind,” he says.

He also challenges common misconceptions about classical musicians as having long hair, being antisocial and having an obsession with Bach. Shimron breaks that stereotype with a clean-shaven head and an affinity for classic and indie rock such as Radiohead and Coldplay, in addition to an interest in politics.

“People believe musicians spend hours on end in a windowless room, or that we’re out of touch with reality, or that we’re dealing with archaic things or artifacts that are irrelevant to contemporary life,” he says.

Shimron has some unabashedly classical tastes, including Bach, Brahms, even Gershwin. But he has some musical guilty pleasures that could make his counterparts blush, too.

“ABBA,” he admits.

In the classroom, Shimron says, sharing his passion for music with today’s youth poses some unique, but satisfying, challenges. Connecting with his students involves tapping into what excites people about music. While Beethoven may not follow Lady Gaga on their favorite radio station, he argues it’s still important to play and teach the classics.

“(Classical music) might not be as relevant, especially to college students,” he says, “but I want students to know that they have to engage with the music. They have to explore, sing, think, play and explore it all over again.”

Amidst all of the success Shimron has had professionally and in the classroom, he remembers that his passion for music springs from an intensely personal place.

“Music is an outlet for your inner world. I’ve been a private person ever since I was a child,” he says. “Music was a place where I could disappear without feeling anti-social. It is a place where I could be myself.”

So despite the worldwide travel and his task of making the classics relevant to the Millennial Generation, he is confident. “Part of my job, even if I am not conscious of it, is to tap into what excited people about music; to be on the lookout for it. When I see what excites them, we can begin to communicate that excitement.”

Please click the link to the right to listen to excerpts of Shimron’s performance at this year’s Elon Valentine’s Day Chamber Music Concert, including Dvorak’s Romance, Op. 11 and Beethoven’s Twelve Variations on a Theme from Handel’s Oratorio “Judas Maccabaus.”

By Robert Wohner ’11