Aberdeen’s Gordon Shaw carries music in his soul. Just 22 years old, he has played on stages in Italy and at New York’s Carnegie Hall. And last year, in those final blissful weeks before the pandemic, he had the opportunity to debut his own orchestral composition at Washington State University’s Festival of Contemporary Art Music.

Shaw’s love affair with music began far from the world stage. When he entered fifth grade at McDermoth Elementary, Aberdeen schools benefited from a thriving strings program under the direction of Karen Miekle. When she gave the elementary students their choice of instruments, Shaw chose the cello, a decision based primarily on the fact that the cello fell in a sweet spot between the tiny violin and the huge bass.

”I love the deep, resonant sound,” he explains. “People associate the cello as the closest instrument to the human voice.” Throughout middle school and high school, Shaw added to his musical toolkit. The jazz band needed a bass player, so he stepped up. He played key roles in local musicals, from Captain von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” to Lord Farquaad in 7th Street Theatre’s “Shrek, the Musical.” He also played in both the Tacoma Junior Youth Symphony and Grays Harbor Symphony. Along the way, he picked up piano and guitar.

Gordon Shaw (Photos by Juliana Wallace)
Shaw played Carnegie Hall in 2018, performing with renowned cellist Misha Quint and the InterHarmony Cello Ensemble. (Photo courtesy of Gordon Shaw)

In addition to Miekle, who passed away in 2019, Shaw credits several gifted music teachers on the Harbor with building his love of music. He studied voice with Ian Dorsch at Grays Harbor College, participating in the annual opera workshop. And, Merry Jo Zimmer taught him piano. In fact, he wrote his most recent composition, a chamber piece titled “The Raven and the Cardinal,” at her request.

When he entered college at Washington State University, Shaw initially planned to major in political science. But music quickly won out, and he switched to a major in music composition, with a minor in music tech.

He also continued to study cello under the direction of Dr. Ruth Boden. Recognizing his talent, Boden encouraged Shaw to attend the InterHarmony Music Festival in Aqcui Terme, Italy. Just a few months later, Boden and Shaw performed together at Carnegie Hall in NYC. Shaw played Carnegie Hall in 2018, performing with renowned cellist Misha Quint and the InterHarmony Cello Ensemble. (Photo courtesy of Gordon Shaw)

Although he performs beautifully, Shaw’s real love lies in creating and recording music. “The dream is to walk into some random place and hear a song I wrote playing over the speakers,” he says. Whether that song will be jazz, classical, mood music or a movie soundtrack is anyone’s guess. Shaw loves it all, particularly the big ensemble pieces. “I really like the full symphonic music of a movie score,” he explains. “It incorporates a lot of the modern-day techniques and progressiveness, kind of throwing all the rules out the window. It’s one huge ensemble, but still not overcrowded.”

While at WSU, Shaw composed his first symphonic work, titled “Kein Bedauerun” (German for “No Regrets”). “Kein Bedauerun” became the closing piece for Shaw’s virtual concert this past February through the Bishop Center for Performing Arts. Music fans who missed the concert can still treat themselves to an evening of wonderful music. Simply go to the Bishop Center for Performing Arts Facebook page and search on “Gordon Shaw.” The concert covers an eclectic mix of original Shaw compositions, including baroque, mood music, chamber music and contemporary symphony.

Professors Scott Blasco and Ryan Hare at WSU helped Shaw hone his composition skills. Dr. Hare introduced him to the free writing technique that Shaw uses for most of his composing. Shaw describes the process as jotting completely random notes on the staff paper, then adding rhythms. “Eighty percent of (what you write down) is garbage,” he laughs. “But there are bits you can take and expand on. The trick is to find ways to connect all the separate ideas so that they mesh into one.”

The technique allows composers to avoid unconsciously infringing on another composer’s copyright, because, as Dr. Hare points out, at some point, everything has already been written. A multi-instrumentalist, Shaw plays cello, piano, guitar and string bass. He also sings and composes. (Photo by Juliana Wallace) Dr. Blasco taught Shaw another key ingredient to good composition: you write better music when you do not want to write.

“He would tell me that even if you sit down for two hours and you get four notes down, that’s infinitely better than not sitting down and writing music,” explains Shaw. “Eventually, things start to just line up. You have so many separate ideas. Then you find ways to connect them, and it all blends together. I love that feeling.”

Currently, Shaw is spending a year on the Harbor between WSU and graduate school. Along with reconnecting with his parents, John and Dee Ann Shaw, he recently accepted a position as music teacher at Miller Junior High, a job that will allow him to follow in the footsteps of teachers who have inspired him through the years.

After his gap year, Shaw hopes to pursue audio engineering in graduate school while continuing to compose music. In the meantime, if the stars line up right, perhaps Harborites can catch him on the stage here before he takes the world by musical storm.

A multi-instrumentalist, Shaw plays cello, piano, guitar and string bass. He also sings and composes. (Photo by Juliana Wallace)