My Father, Oscar Shumsky


Volume CVII, No. 10October, 2007

Eric Shumsky

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From his tremendous debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of seven, and continuing with performances with virtually every great orchestra in the world, musicians including Stokowski, Kreisler, Oistrakh, Milstein, and Menuhin put my father, Local 802 member Oscar Shumsky (1917-2000), on the highest pedestal in music and concurred he was one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century.

Dad was far more than a great violinist, violist and conductor. His great love of nature helped him to see life in a very special way. Many of his fans do not realize he was also a wonderful photographer. It was far more than just a hobby for him and he left many photos worthy of being exhibited at the finest galleries. In his photographic work lay the concept of truly being at one with a subject in a very intimate way. The undiluted aspect of art, before it filtered through the marketplace, was where my father lived.

His disdain for commercial aspects of art perhaps kept him more sheltered from the public’s eye but it was a price he was very happy to pay. He was a lousy politician and was even proud of this fact. (So am I!)

He did not permit many to get close to him, and those he did let into his life he did so because of a sense of inherent goodness and trust in that person. He was a great father — though we often had heated arguments. My terrific mother, Louise Carboni, was his greatest supporter and they had a wonderful marriage for well over 50 years.

Students of Oscar Shumsky adored him and were in awe of his genius, great warmth, and humor. He could play anything at sight on violin or viola at a level that was awesome indeed. He could also imitate any living violinist, good or bad, and put you on the floor with laughter with the candidness’ of imitation and the mannerisms he depicted.

“There was never a greater violin talent, including Heifetz.” This is a quote from Efrem Zimbalist, his teacher and a great violinist himself.

Dad was a complete musician, an extraordinary string player and a profound thinker. He did not practice the violin from 9 to 5. He did not practice scales all day long — nor did he need to.

His interpretations were not overplayed and always sounded fresh. Dad often told me he hated rubberstamped performances that sounded like they came from a cookie cutter.

Although a big intellect, he much preferred instinct in music to cerebral and dry conceptions so often devoid of feeling. His roots were unmistakable: his father Isaac was a cabinet maker from Russia (near Odessa) and was a wonderful klezmer violinist with an exquisite sense of proportion and taste.

His example for younger players has more to do with artistic integrity than anything else. In this day of putting the career before the art, it is refreshing to look back at an artist whose life was reflected through his art. And make no mistake: his peers always recognized him for his greatness since his very earliest performances in the 1920’s.

I miss him very much

For a biography as well as a list of available recordings, please visit