Lunaria, West L.A.
As a child, Missouri native Soraya Shaw had a front-row seat to a master composer, pianist, and music teacher. Her creative and musically talented grandmother, who Shaw describes as "a born teacher," lived with her family and taught music lessons from their living room. "I was a daily witness to the tears and triumphs of many of my grandmother's music students, and I was fascinated at how she connected with students and motivated them to practice and improve," says Shaw. That fascination came from more than mere imagination. Shaw also took piano lessons from her grandmother starting at age four.
"My grandmother was a special kind of teacher who made an indelible impact on me," Shaw added. "Her music teaching influence lives and breathes through me to this day."
When Shaw's grandmother advised her that it is critical always to stay a step ahead of your students, she took that advice to heart. In addition to piano, she started taking lessons in classical voice and flute. Her older brother, a young trumpet player at the time who was infatuated with performing, practicing, and listening to jazz greats, introduced her to the world of jazz, an interest that would eventually grow to be a significant part of Shaw's professional performing career.
When Shaw turned sixteen, she attended a local junior college where she began studying music theory, flute, voice, and piano. She immersed herself in music, using her quickly developing talents to perform at every opportunity, including with her college choir, band, and jazz ensemble. By her second semester, Shaw was awarded a scholarship to continue her studies. Over the next few years, she continued to study music both privately and on her own. She focused on voice, piano chording, and improvisational flute while performing regularly for weddings, events, and weekly church services.
Shaw worked hard to build a solid musical foundation by studying private voice with Dr. Jeral Becker, Maria Stephanides, and John Stewart. Each offered unique insights and tailored instruction that inspired Shaw to pursue a career in music. Her talents and persistent pursuit of a musical career did not go unnoticed. Because of her impressive GPA, she was awarded a partial scholarship in Fine & Performing Arts to pursue her bachelor's degree from Saint Louis University. She graduated magna cum laude and was immediately offered an adjunct professor position teaching classical voice at the university, an offer she turned down to forge her own musical path.
Early in her career, the news of Shaw's musical talents was turning the heads of those who attended her classical recitals. "It was very rewarding to sing lieder, arias, and art songs in front of appreciative audiences," she shared. "From musical masters like Mozart, Schubert, and Brahms to Faure, Puccini, and Bizet, the works I performed at these recitals were as inspiring to me as those who came to listen."
Under the guidance of Elizabeth Mannion, Shaw received a partial scholarship to enroll in postgraduate studies at the University of California - Santa Barbara Vocal Institute. "It was these people and experiences that formed and refined the bedrock of my performance and teaching career," says Shaw. "I owe a debt of gratitude to those who played such a critical role in developing my musical maturity and stylistic diversity, particularly Ms. Mannion."
In Shaw's case, "stylistic diversity" included everything from musical theatre and opera to jazz and worship music. Under the direction of Tony-nominated Paul Blake, Shaw has performed and traveled with the Muny, America's oldest and largest outdoor musical theater. She has also performed with the American Kantorei, a chorus and orchestra dedicated to performing the music of J.S. Bach and directed by founder and Bach aficionado, Robert Bergt. Shaw has also worked with internationally renowned stage director of opera, theatre, and television, Colin Graham.
Daydreams, Shaw's classical and Latin-influenced jazz album, featured a beautiful collection of many favorite jazz standards such as "Night and Day," "Body and Soul," "Ain't Misbehavin," and "I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart." The album was engineered by Grammy award winner Wayne Cook, who has also engineered projects for groups such as Manhattan Transfer and the Yellow Jackets. Cook, who is also the recipient of numerous film and television awards and is best known for his association with the 1970s rock bands Steppenwolf and Player, co-produced the album with Shaw. "It is always thrilling to perform and record music that I love. And each step in my musical journey has been enhanced by the acclaimed musical artists I have worked with," Shaw reflected.
Some of those artists included Mark Massey, Anders Swanson, Paul Carman, Chris Wabich, and Melena Francis. Thanks in part to their contributions to the project, Shaw believes the classic songs on Daydreams have held up remarkably over time. Future performances at various Southern California jazz venues would again include collaborations with Massey, Swanson, and Wabich, along with many other gifted jazz musicians.
Daydreams was an immediate hit and secured a significant achievement in Shaw's musical career when it was chosen out of thousands of submissions to be played on KKJZ 88.1 FM of Los Angeles, the number-one-rated jazz radio station in the U.S. with a significant international following. "World-class players would contact me to find out how I did it, but I'm not sure I did anything different from anyone else," explained Shaw. "All I know is there was a tremendous amount of work that went into producing my own album, booking performances, and leading and securing players for each event."
One of Shaw's most memorable performances unfolded rather unexpectedly during this time. Shaw was deeply immersed in performing and the production of her jazz album when tragedy struck. St. Philip Benizi Church in Fullerton, California, where Shaw worked as a church cantor for many years, was the target of an arsonist who set the historical building on fire just a few months after Shaw was hired. In response to the catastrophic loss, Shaw recorded You Are Near, a collection of familiar Catholic songs for the parish and the parishioners.
Proceeds from the sale of her album went directly toward recovery efforts, but Shaw knew the congregation felt her contribution on a much deeper level than just financially. "It raised the morale and spirits of the people and families who were profoundly connected to the church," Shaw said. Although it happened years ago, people still reach out to Shaw to thank her for her thoughtful gift and inquire about purchasing more of her work.
But Soraya Shaw's performing career has run a successful parallel to her music teaching career. In addition to touring, recording, and live performances, Shaw has spent the past three decades using her expertise and experience teaching private vocal, piano, and flute lessons from her home studio in Los Alamitos, California. "I love teaching my students and find it very satisfying," says Shaw. "Whether children or adults, I am passionate about meeting them where they are at musically and focusing on their personal goals for improvement."
Shaw's rich history of musical experiences has taught her how to diagnose problem areas quickly. She feels humbled and privileged to be able to share her knowledge with whoever comes her way. "I work hard to discover the individual needs of my students and tailor their lessons to address those needs," explained Shaw. "Some of this is done in a planned way, and part of it is unplanned and intuitive."
In large part, Shaw's teaching methodology is driven by lessons she learned from one of her college voice teachers at St. Louis University, Jeral Becker. Shaw appreciated how hard he worked to ensure she understood the concepts being taught. "He regularly demonstrated how important it is for a music teacher to have multiple ways of teaching the same techniques and concepts," explained Shaw. "Thanks to him, my vocal, piano, and flute students can all expect the same from me; if they don't connect with how I explain something to them the first or second time, rest assured I have plenty of other teaching strategies and analogies for them until they do!"
Classical students who come to Shaw will be happy to know she is trained in French, German and Italian phonetics. She also attended El Instituto de Lengua Espanola, San Jose, Costa Rica, where she was immersed in studying the Spanish language and Hispanic culture.
Soraya Shaw invites vocal, piano, and flute students of all ages, levels, and abilities to connect with her to discuss their musical goals. She is committed to meeting students where they are and guiding them on their own personal musical journeys. "Focused practice, regular attendance at lessons, and having a safe place to be creative and learn are the best ingredients for musical progress," says Shaw. Soraya Shaw is living proof of that truth and couldn't be more excited to help you reach your full musical potential.