Remembering Dr. Paul Shelden, 1941-2020

Mike Lawson • • June 15, 2020

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SBO has received confirmation that clarinetist, saxophonist, flutist, conductor, arranger, educator, and Diplomatte Music founder Dr. Paul Shelden passed away on April 17, 2020 in his Long Island home. He was 79. The cause of death was complications due to COVID-19.

Born on March 8, 1941 in Brooklyn, Shelden and his brother Aaron started playing music around age 10, when Paul picked up the clarinet and his brother played the accordion. Together, they performed as children on Ted Mack’s “Original Amateur Hour.” He continued to excel at the Stevensville Hotel, where he became the bandleader of the Catskill Mountains resort.

Shelden’s lengthy career spanned over 60 years. Before becoming an educator himself, he received a bachelor’s degree and master’s degrees at the Juilliard School as a scholarship student of Arthur Christmann and Joseph Allard. There he studied clarinet performance, conducting, composing, and saxophone. Later, he earned a doctor of musical arts degree in clarinet performance, literature, and pedagogy from the University of Maryland in 1978. He earned his D.M.A. from the University of Maryland at College Park.

His talent took him far; Shelden would go on to perform and conduct on many of the most revered stages in the country, including Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the White House. His collaborative work with other musical greats is as varied as his own musical expertise. He performed under classical conductors James Levine, Robert Shaw, and Leonard Bernstein, but also worked with more mainstream acts like Bob Hope, Billy Joel, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett, and Blood, Sweat & Tears. There were few forms of performance that Shelden didn’t dabble in at some point in his life, from playing in Broadway musical orchestras, to taking the stage for Guy Lombardo’s televised New Year’s Eve concerts.

He served as an educator for decades, sharing his talent with thousands of students. He worked at Brooklyn College for a remarkable 34 years, where he wore many hats over the years. In addition to teaching there, he worked as director of the department of music in the school of general studies, was assistant director of the conservatory of music, director of graduate studies in music, and assistant dean for research and graduate studies for the college. He also directed the Brooklyn College Wind Ensemble and founded the Conservatory’s Clarinet Quartet.

In 2003, he founded Diplomatte Musical Instruments, a woodwind instrument company.

In recent years, he battled Parkinson’s Disease with a brave face as he took part in Rock Steady Boxing, a therapy program for people affected by Parkinson’s Disease, at the New York Institute of Technology. Not only did his participation help in his struggle with the disease, but it demonstrated a connection to Shelden’s father, who also was a boxer. Before falling ill from COVID-19, he performed often, namely with Long Island’s Northwinds Symphonic Band.

His family held a small graveside service on April 21, with over 200 of Shelden’s friends and loved ones watching via Zoom.

He is survived by wife of 51 years, Dr. Pamela Shelden, his son, Seth Shelden, his daughter, Dr. Loren Napoli, his identical twin brother, Aaron Shelden, 79, and two grandchildren. Seth remains the vice president and general counsel of Diplomatte Music.

Following Shelden’s passing, New York musicians – and players from all parts of the world – have expressed their gratitude for his presence in their lives.

His son Seth shared on Facebook the day of his passing: “No one in my life will ever love me the way he did, inspire me the way he did, admire me the way he did, or do anything in their lives as well as he played the clarinet. His accomplishments were mind-blowing, and he could have given us still more.”

Former professor of Brooklyn College and longtime colleague of Shelden, Bruce MacIntyre, shares: “As a conductor-musicologist, he will be long remembered for his good humor, his caring teaching, and his excellent, cogently designed wind-ensemble programs as well as his inspired, entertaining children’s concerts that allowed students to come up to the podium and ‘out-conduct’ their teachers.”

Donations can be made in his memory to the Brooklyn College

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