February 7, 2023

The Remarkable Shanks String Quartet…and ditto family


Their business card shows what an interesting group the brothers are.

By John Guy LaPlante

With 2 photos

Morro Bay, CA —  Yes, they’re four young, gifted, enthusiastic brothers performing as a quartet based in nearby San Luis Obispo.

I saw them in a concert at our Public Library a year ago.  Thought they were terrific.

Well, they performed again recently. I made sure to attend. Again a fine concert. If they return, I’ll be there again. By the concert’s close I decided I’d write them up if at all possible.

Up top you saw their photo. Bet you had no idea they’re brothers.

I got in touch with Joseph, at 24 the oldest. It turned out he’s the manager and the spokesman.

That seems natural with his seniority.

But quickly he said, “I want to make a point about that. The four of us work together. We all have equal input. An equal say in everything. We like it that way.”

It made me feel they are a caring foursome.

Then, imagine my amazement to learn they are four of such a large family. They have three brothers and two sisters. All younger. All musical. All playing an instrument or two.

Yes, nine with the same mom and dad, and this at a time when the average family has only two kids. I’ll bet they’re the only such family in the USA.

I guessed that for sure their dad and mom were musicians. Well, I was right. Their dad is an organist and pianist and their mom plays the piano and sings.

But in his case, I was only half right. He is also the pastor of the Community Baptist Church in San Luis Obispo.

Another interesting tidbit. All nine live with their parents in the family home. I’d love to see that.

What an interesting and wholesome story this was turning out to be. In fact, phenomenal. And it got better.

Joseph – (he told me nobody calls him Joe. I had called him Joe. He nicely corrected me)—said the whole gang went or are still going to school at the San Luis Obispo Community School, which is operated by their dad’s church. It’s an elementary school and a high school. So 12 years in all.

And he said, “From the first day in the first grade right up through all those years, music was just as important a subject as writing and math and history. Really was!”

In that way it sounded quite like the school I went to for 12 years long, long ago. With one big difference.

For me, the music part was the difference. My mom paid for me to take piano lessons on the side. She was musical and Insisted on my learning. The teacher, a nice old lady who earned her living teaching piano, gave up on me, and she was right. Zero talent.

So all the Shanks kids grew up listening, enjoying, making music, and that’s the way it is to this day.

They had grown up playing piano first, taught by their dad. Then violin, taught by a remarkable teacher named Don Charles. I’ll tell you about him also. Then each gravitated to the instrument they play now. Which worked out beautifully for a quartet.

For many years all four have played in the San Luis Obispo Youth Orchestra Symphony

Joseph insists on giving credit to Carol Kirsten, one of its conductors. She saw their talent and offered to coach them in sessions after a concert. They got good enough to perform individually and then in two’s, three’s, and four’s.

They’ve played for weddings, funerals, birthday parties, Elks Club, Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, competitions, master classes

Examples of their music are “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba,” “Canon in D,’” and quartets by Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn, “Air on G,” and various light entertainment pieces..

I also put in a call to their parents and got to speak with their mom, Julie. She was surprised by my interest. As we chatted on, it t got more and more interesting.

She told me he husband was one of three children. She one of nine.

“That sort of set me up for a large family of my own! When we married, Randall and I prayed the Lord would bless us in that way. He did! But we had six sons before the first girl! Then two. What good news that was!

“We are a Christian family. In the full sense of the meaning. All our children have biblical names.

The two girls, Amethyst and Emerald, are named for ‘gem stones” in the Bible.”

Yes, all nine studied at the church’s school. She taught them there in the various subjects. In effect, she home-schooled them.

Interestingly, she is also an RN and still does occasional nursing

“I must explain one thing,” she told me. “These many years, our children have had a remarkable teacher who made it possible. Donald Charles. He is such a fine teacher and made it so affordable.”

Now’s my chance to tell you about Mr. Charles. I phoned him and he filled me in. He learned the violin as a boy and has played and taught violin all his life, and has played in a variety of groups, ensembles and symphonies these many years, until quite recently. And at age 88 still has ten students,

He lives in Paso Robles, some 30 miles from San Luis Obispo. Mrs. Shanks calculated that at one point, over some 10 years, the family made 323 trips, taking four children at a time, for individual lessons from him. Over 1,200 lessons in all for their nine children. Nearly 20,000 miles back and forth.

And think of the investment in time and money, even at Mr. Charles’ reduced rates. All while the older children were getting involved in music in the San Luis Obispo area and needed rides and attention.

Now let me tell you about the four in the quartet individually. And it will be easier if you keep the photo of their business card in mind. I’ll tell you about them from left to right.

The first is Timothy, 21. He plays violin. He and Titus on the far right are twins. Both are sophomores majoring in music at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.

Next to Tim is Philip, 23, violin. He’s studying nursing at Cuesta Community College here.

Joseph is next. He’s a senior at Cal Poly. He told me, “I’m trying to decide. Either I’m going to go to grad school for a master’s in music. Or I’m going to apply to join the California Highway Patrol. Yes, surprising, I know. But police work has interested me for many years.”

And fourth is Titus, cello. Like his twin brother, he’s still deciding about the future.

Now about the quartet. Joseph said the idea of it developed slowly.

“We’d be invited to perform at school. Maybe individually. Maybe play together at a party. We got busier. But school always came first.

“Our parents always encouraged us. Loved the idea of our performing together.

“Finally we realized we needed a name. And we came up with ‘The Shanks String Quartet.’

“And you know, performing together turned out to be fun. And we started to earn a fee!” He smiled. “That was appreciated. We were all still in school!

“More and more, folks are becoming aware of us. We don’t advertise. It’s word of mouth. You know, people recommending us. We’ll get a call to do somebody’s birthday. Or a wedding. Or a civic group of some kind. And so on. It’s great.”

I asked about their two concerts at the Morro Bay Public Library.

“We performed that first time. Then they invited us back. It was their initiative. And we received a fee.”

That’s got to feel good.

So it seems inevitable the quartet as it is now will change. As one brother leaves for career reasons or whatever, I would imagine one of the younger siblings would take his place. The youngest is Emerald, 11. Hey, with two girls in the family, it could become co-ed. So the quartet may be around for quite a while.

I like that idea.

Many of you, I am sure, remember the wonderful Ed Sullivan Show on TV.  Imagine what Ed would have done with this quartet on his show!  And with all nine kids and Mom and Dad! And even Don Charles! I really believe he would have put the whole gang on his show.

        All eleven Shanks, with Dad at the far left and Mom at the far right.

I told you I’ll bet they’re the only such family in the USA. Think I’ve made my case?

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