Posted on Sun, Jan. 6, 2008

John V. Shamlian, 86, orchestra bassoonist

By Gayle Ronan Sims

Inquirer Staff Writer

John Victor Shamlian, 86, of Haddonfield, a musical prodigy who rose
to assistant first bassoonist with the Philadelphia Orchestra before
he retired in 1982 after 31 years, died Dec. 14 at Cooper University
Hospital in Camden of complications from a fall. Mr. Shamlian, one of
five children whose father survived the 1915 Armenian genocide and
whose mother was a wealthy New Yorker who studied opera, grew up above
the family's tailor and dry-cleaning shop in Bryn Mawr.

He taught himself to play the violin, the clarinet and bells as a
young boy. He studied the bassoon and the glockenspiel at Lower Merion
High School, from which he graduated in 1939. Mr. Shamlian was awarded
a four-year scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music, but World
War II interrupted his studies.

He tried to enlist in the U.S. military, but was rejected because of a
medical condition resulting from childhood polio. The determined
Mr. Shamlian joined the Canadian navy, was shipped to England, and
played in a military band throughout the war.

In Scotland, he met his future wife, Peggy Walden, who was in the
signal corps in the British navy. Mr. Shamlian was awarded a grant to
finish his degree at the Royal Academy of Music. After graduation, he
played the bassoon with the London Symphony Orchestra for five years
and free-lanced with Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic.

On a trip to Philadelphia, Mr. Shamlian played for Eugene
Ormandy. Ormandy hired him as third assistant bassoonist for the
Philadelphia Orchestra in 1951, and Mr. Shamlian moved his family to

By chance, Mr. Shamlian played his last rehearsal in 1982 when the
touring orchestra was at London's Royal Albert Hall - the same hall
where he had performed 31 years before.

At the start of his career in London, "England was just digging out
from the war," Mr. Shamlian said in a 1982 Inquirer interview. "I
played my first concert right here with the London Symphony. I'll
never forget it." His trunk with his concert clothes did not arrive,
and Mr. Shamlian had to wear a suit too small and moccasins instead of
black shoes. "But that was all right because we were performing

In retirement, Mr. Shamlian continued teaching bassoon and opened a
shop in his home to repair bassoons and produce the instrument's
delicate double reeds. Orders came from around the world, his son
David said.

His father, he said, "was like a bassoon whisperer. He had a Zenlike
quality about him when he worked on a bassoon. Many of his adjustments
were counterintuitive to others who repaired the instrument. But they

In addition to his son David, Mr. Shamlian is survived by sons Peter
and Mark; five grandchildren; two brothers; and a sister. His wife
died in 2006.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Grace Episcopal
Church, 19 Kings Highway East, Haddonfield, N.J. 08033. Burial will be
in the church garden.

Memorial donations may be made to the church.