Player Spotlight ~ Shamus Rahman Khan
Sociologist, Professor, Writer, Violinist, Violist

Opus 226, 1699 “Castlebarco” Stradivarius violin, 1993

Shamus Rahman Khan“The violin is very much a simple material thing -- only a few ingredients. But under Doug's hands, these pieces of wood become something so much more. In fact, I think of my violin as one of my oldest, best friends!

I miss my violin when I haven't played in a while. After a few weeks away from one another, it takes a little time for us to warm up together. But soon, we're back where we left off (almost -- with more mistakes from me each time!). I have a hard time playing other instruments. I don't know them as well, and they don't know me as well. I've been the only real player of my instrument. And it's nearing two decades that I've had it! It's not so much an object I own, as something I'm in a kind of relationship with. I feel like I've imprinted myself on it a bit -- and it's certainly become a part of me.”

I began playing the violin when I was about three or four, and played regularly until I was in my early 20's. These days, I play about once a week with a group of chamber musicians in New York City. I spent my early years in New York, studied at the New England Conservatory of Music as a teenager, and then in Philadelphia when I went to college at Haverford. My high school teacher, a young recent graduate from Carnegie Mellon, Decky Gander, was perhaps the least well known of anyone I studied with, but by far the most inspirational. She was tough and caring at the same time. I'll play for the rest of my life because of her. Mary Lou Speaker Churchill introduced me to Doug Cox's violins. And Melba Sandberg got me started on the viola. She stopped me in the halls one day at NEC, and said to me, “Khan! You have big hands. And you're good at transcribing. Come to rehearsal at 3. I'll bring you a viola.” Thus I learned a second instrument! My passion is new music, and contemporary music. I'm also passionate about cooking — I worked through school as a cook. And social justice work around inequality is a passion.

My regular chamber group is me, a pianist / psychiastrist / psycho-analyst, a violinist/violist who works at Carnegie Hall, and a cellist / fellow sociologist. We meet and read through pieces once a week, breaking periodically for some wine and dinner. We have played together since 1996 when we first met in college. Occasionally we have guests — recently we got to play through the Brahms G-minor piano quartet (op. 25) with Richard Goode on the piano! But most of all I think we all like the intimacy and lower pressure of a regular group that just plays for ourselves.

I'm a sociologist and writer. I teach at Columbia University, though during 2011-12 I was on leave to write a book at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. This allowed me to spend a year around some great writers, working on a project and talking about writing.

My professional work involves writing about inequality. But I tend not to write about poverty. Instead, I spent my time studying the rich. I look at the ways in which the income and wealth increases among the richest of the rich are what drive inequality today. I recently wrote a book about an elite boarding school, exploring what it teaches its students, and what it can tell us about the changing nature of American inequality. It's called Privilege.

Return to Player Archive