You Should Know … Jacob Shack

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Jacob Shack
Jacob Shack (Courtesy of the BSO)

Jacob Shack, 29, is a violist in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

He grew up in Boston and has been playing instruments since he was 6 years old. He attended Harvard University, where he studied comparative religion, and Juilliard, where he got his master’s.


He moved to Baltimore four years ago for a job at the BSO. He lives in Mt. Vernon.

Was Judaism a big part of your upbringing?

We belonged to a Reform congregation, going to temple on the High Holidays and gathering for holidays with family. The Jewish holidays were definitely a part of my life. I spent my entire adolescence going to Hebrew school and Sunday school up until I got confirmed in high school. Definitely Judaism was a huge part of my upbringing.

How did you first get interested in music and playing the viola?

I started on violin actually when I was 6 years old. I’m the youngest of three siblings, so my older siblings at the time were both playing piano, and my parents wanted me to play an instrument but they didn’t want three kids in the house playing piano. So I started on violin.

It sort of just never really stopped. It never occurred to me to stop. Right around sixth or seventh grade, my violin teacher at that time was learning viola herself, so we decided to start learning it together. At the beginning of high school, I decided I liked playing viola better.

How did you get started at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra?

It’s very difficult if not impossible to seek out a specific orchestra and decide you want to go to that specific one. The open spots in orchestras are so few and far between that, as a student, you just see what’s out there and go for anything you can, honestly.

The timing worked out such that the Baltimore Symphony was about a month after I graduated from my master’s at Juilliard, but I had done several auditions before that during my time and had just not gotten the job. There are hundreds of people who go for these jobs and one or two posts, so I got really, really lucky in terms of the timing.

What has working for the orchestra been like during the pandemic?

I’m really grateful because our management has done a really good job of coming up with ways to still bring music to our community, even if it’s remotely. Obviously we’re not having audiences in the hall right now, but when all this started back in March, no one knew how long it was going to last or what the severity of it was going to be.

One of the things that my colleagues in the viola section came up with was doing an online series called “Lunch Bachs.” … There were five of us who were involved in this, and we would each play a movement of Bach every week and we would pair it with a more modern, contemporary piece, and the BSO would post those online, on Facebook and other social media for our audiences to see.

That was the main way we kept engaged with our community during the first six months of the pandemic. Now that our 2020-21 season just started, we have a web series for the whole orchestra called “BSO Sessions,” which gets released every Wednesday at 8, so people can go online to the BSO website and find that.

What advice would you have for people interested in a career in music?

Just like any job, don’t let your successes and failures define you. Being a musician is definitely a huge part of who I am, but it’s not all of who I am, and so trying not to attach my whole sense of self-worth to my job has been very helpful. I would say have artistic integrity, have personal integrity and you won’t go wrong.

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