Barbara Shearer, one of the Bay Area’s best-loved concert pianists and music teachers, died on Dec. 6 of natural causes, in Oakland.
Born on Sept. 16, 1936, in Ottawa, Illinois, Shearer spent her childhood in the rural Midwest. She attended Carthage College for two years, then Wittenberg University in Ohio, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music. On the advice of her teachers she went to New York in 1958 to study piano with Leonard Shure, whom she later followed to Zurich and Munich. A later influence was Karl Ulrich Schnabel, from whom she received valuable coaching and with whom she taught as a colleague.
In 1963 Shearer was about to take a teaching job in New York, but literally changed directions when one of her teachers in Ohio dissuaded her, offering to buy her a bus ticket to San Francisco instead. She did graduate work at UC Berkeley, and in 1964 married singer and composer Allen Shearer, who survives her.
Barbara Shearer performed solo, with chamber ensembles, and in song recitals with her husband and many other singers throughout Northern California and on the East Coast, and in Mexico and Italy. She lived for two years in Salzburg, Austria, and one year at the American Academy in Rome, during which time she gave a solo recital at the Vienna Konzerthaus.
Other memorable performances include Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto and Arnold Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto with the UC Symphony, Brahms’s Concerto in D minor with the San Francisco Community Orchestra as well as the Mendocino Festival Orchestra, and Allen Shearer’s Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra with the Orchestra Sinfonica della RAI (Rome).
Shearer taught in the Young Musicians Program at Berkeley in its formative years, and joined the university’s piano faculty in 1978, where she taught for nearly 25 years. Legions of musicians remember her as a mentor—a powerful, inspiring artist who always sought to bring out the best in her students. Added to her musical and intellectual gifts was the gift of enthusiasm.
An immensely popular performer, Shearer’s Bay Area concerts regularly attracted overflow audiences. She recorded music of Schumann and Chopin on the Alba Artists label. Although music was the predominant force in her life, Shearer also pursued other interests with passion. She was an avid reader and an expert knitter, and delighted in knowing about people—composers, performers, authors, artists, cultural leaders, and everyday folk. She loved retreating into rustic settings on the Northern California coast and treasured her garden at home with its ferns, fruit trees, and the towering redwood she planted as a sapling.
The historic North Oakland house where Barbara Shearer taught and lived is a landmark, not only as an architectural treasure but also as a place where, for the past four decades, generations of music students gathered to learn more about music-making—and life—from a true Bay Area original.
A memorial concert is being planned for January.e