Faithfulness, Excellence, and Love Dr. Shockey's 40 Years at Cairn

Retiring chorale conductor’s legacy extends far beyond just music

Dr. Shockey conducting
In the video below, view photos spanning the almost four-decade career of former Cairn chorale conductor Dr. David Shockey.

With his commitment to musical excellence, Dr. David Shockeys retirement celebrations might have been full of his legacy in the careers of alumni working in the world of music. His voice students and members of his ensembles have gone on to serve as music professors, church music directors, and beloved teachers. But true success, says Shockey, is not about simply becoming a renowned musician; it’s about balancing a pursuit of excellence with right priorities focused on God and people.

That’s a lesson Shockey, professor and chair of voice studies at Cairn, passed on to Dr. Nathan Bowers ’97, who first gave Dr. Shockey the idea to take the annual chorale tours overseas and went on to earn his PhD in historical musicology at the University of Pittsburgh.

“Although it’s been many years since I was formally one of Dr. Shockey’s students,” says Bowers, “his constant pursuit of excellence, love of singing, never-ending commitment to his students, humble leadership, and strong faith still drive me to be a better Christian and a better musician today.”

Shockey announced his decision to retire at the end of the chorale’s weeklong East Coast tour in spring 2016. He recently completed his final year of full-time teaching, capped with a nine-day chorale tour to Hong Kong on May 9–18. He will continue to teach voice lessons at Cairn as an adjunct professor.

Hired as a music instructor in 1978, Shockey leaves a legacy that amounts to more than just hundreds of trained singers and thousands of satisfied concertgoers. It includes shaping the worldviews, characters, and even marriages of nearly four decades of students in majors across the University who have sung for him in private lessons, the chamber singers, and the chorale.

Dr. Benjamin Harding ’02 sang in the chorale under Dr. Shockey’s instruction. Now the dean of the School of Music, Harding was charged with hiring Shockey’s successor, Dr. Steven McCollum. Finding someone to fill Shockey’s shoes was not an easy task. Having known Shockey for almost 20 years as both a professor and a colleague, Harding says that Shockey epitomizes the “model faculty member”: “He is faithful to Christ, he is excellent in his craft, and he loves his students. I’ve seen faithfulness, excellence, and love poured out in David’s life.”

Many who have sung for Dr. Shockey agree, saying that he shaped their lives and careers with lessons learned both on stage and in his home. Private piano instructor Cinderly (Hummel) Hahn ’86, who first met Shockey when she was a seventh-grader attending the Csehy Summer School of Music, fondly remembers her first experiences with him as a choir director and music theory teacher: “His passion for choral music helped me to see music in a different light and opened my eyes to aspects that had previously been unknown to me.” But what his students remember best is Shockey’s love for his students, recalling demonstrations of his care even decades later. Reflecting on that experience at Csehy in the early days of Shockey’s career, Hahn says that “his kindness, patience, and tenderness towards me as a confused theory student made a lasting impression.”

Her husband, Mark Hahn ’86, music director at Montgomery Evangelical Free Church in New Jersey, agrees: “While you were in [Dr. Shockey’s] charge, you knew that he really cared for you as a student and a person. He listened to and engaged his students. He was doing more than simply teaching music; he was investing his life in us.”

Two aspects of his life — the only two that he identifies as more important than his commitment to teaching — that Shockey shared with students were his faith and his family. 

Shockey says, “I gave myself to Cairn and tried to teach at a high level, but I thought, ‘God first, of course. Family next. And then Cairn.’ I wanted my students to know right priorities, and I want them to know how much I love my wife. And I believe that my relationship with my wife has spoken powerfully to students. Part of my ministry here has been as a married man, a Christian marriage.”

One alumna who can attest to the influence of the Shockey’s relationship is Rebecca (Hardman) Hanselman ’14, a former Chorale member who double-majored in Bible and elementary education. A few years ago, she and her now-husband, Dan Hanselman ’14, were the first to approach Dr. Shockey about marriage counseling. She says, “When the time came to choose a couple to do our marriage counseling, it was an easy decision. We wanted our marriage to grow and mature into one like the Shockeys’ — a marriage in which our love for each other and the Lord only grows with time, a marriage centered on Christ and His work. The Shockeys commit to people for the long run; even after we graduated and got married, they have supported, encouraged, and stayed in touch with us. We will never forget the impact the Shockeys have had in our lives.”

While Cairn’s students and audiences will miss Dr. Shockey, other singers and audiences may yet benefit. In addition to continuing to direct the choir at First Baptist Church in Haddonfield, NJ, Shockey and his wife plan to prayerfully explore new opportunities for ministry, perhaps including prison ministry. “The idea was planted in my mind when the chorale sang at a prison in central PA some years ago,” he says. “Who knows? Perhaps directing a prison choir is in my future.”

Watch the photo slideshow created for Dr. Shockey’s retirement celebration and final home chorale concert on April 22, 2017.