Shannon Boutwell, a sophomore double major in violin and piano at Samford University’s School of the Arts, was recently awarded a fellowship by the Becker Family Foundation. The nonprofit foundation seeks to increase awareness and appreciation for stringed instruments. It achieves this by providing services and funding for education, research and performances involving violins, violas and cellos. Boutwell's fellowship award includes an annual trip to the foundation's headquarters in Chicago where she will perform in concert. Additionally, the foundation will lend her a violin from their world renowned collection that she can use freely for the rest of her musical career.
Boutwell's passion for the performing arts was sparked when she saw Marian Nesbitt playing the violin on TV. In fourth grade, she began music lessons at Samford’s Academy of the Arts, while also taking up competitive dance and gymnastics. Boutwell knew early on she wanted to perform on stage, join an orchestra and teach music. She was drawn to double major in violin and piano, an option unavailable at many colleges.
"Despite all the pushback I've received, there have been so many ways God has pushed me to keep going,” said Boutwell. “And playing those violins was one of those moments.”
Samford offered Boutwell everything she wanted in a college experience. The Christ-centered institution was not only close to home for her, but it also offered the unique curriculum path to help her pursue her dreams.
On Nov. 12, 2023, Paul Becker visited Samford’s campus and asked Boutwell to play a song that portrayed who she was as a violinist. She played the concertmaster solo from the first movement of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. Becker told her she had a special connection to music that qualified her for a fellowship with the Becker Family Foundation.
“I was stunned,” she said. “There’s a part of me that is still in disbelief.”
Becker invited her to the Chicago headquarters to be matched with a violin of her choice from the foundation’s collection. Boutwell flew for the first time, just days after her 20th birthday, to sample the Becker Family Foundation violin collection and be matched with an instrument. When she arrived at Becker’s shop, she was speechless at the elegant sound of 17th century violins reverberating off the walls. After having the incredible opportunity to sample four state-of-the-art violins, including two Guarneri violins, one Amati violin and one Guadagnini violin, she chose a 100-year-old violin built by Carl Becker Sr. Becker later told Boutwell the violin was the best in the shop, valued at $115,000 market price.
Boutwell mentioned she fell in love with the violin instantly and feels honored to be its temporary owner. She refers to the violin as her "new best friend" that accompanies her everywhere she goes.
On Feb. 7, 2024, Boutwell performed her first solo on the new violin at Brock Recital Hall. She was accompanied by former Samford professor Ronald Shinn, who had been her piano instructor since high school.
Boutwell continues to use her talents and passions to serve her community. She currently serves as a University Fellow at Samford, a program aimed at holistic education, focusing on students' spiritual, intellectual and moral development.
Beyond the campus, she runs her own private practice, Shannon's Music Studio, where she offers piano and violin lessons. Boutwell also volunteers at Lakeside Baptist Church in Vestavia, Alabama, where her father is the executive pastor. There, she leads children's worship, combining her love for violin and dance in her lessons to minister to young children.