Musician Spotlight: Adam Shenk

Meet Adam Shenk: keyboardist, accompanist, bandleader, dancer, and all-around great dude. A Berklee grad, he spent a fair amount of teaching and performing on land before auditioning with us; in the five years since then, Adam’s become one of Holland America’s most trusted and well-liked music managers, and has practically sailed the entire world in the process. We’re very proud of the musical progress he’s made during this time, but even prouder of how he’s grown as a leader and as a human being, helping to ensure that all the musicians under his jurisdiction are taken care of and have a great experience on board. And finally, we appreciate his goofy sense of humor and his ability to have fun, both on and off the bandstand, while still taking the job seriously and maintaining the integrity of HAL and its music program.

You can watch Adam’s demo here >
And check out his Facebook page >
As well as his Instagram handle >

We encourage you to continue reading for our recent Q&A with Adam, where you’ll learn a bit more about him and hopefully glean some insight and wisdom from his years on board.


Lime: Who was your biggest influence or role model for the bandleader gig, or the gig, in general?

Adam: My first bandleader was Justin Ross Southard, a guitar player. We hit it off on the first day when he was giving me a tour of the ship, and he made it such an enjoyable contract. He was someone with a really positive attitude about the gig, was very funny, but also took the job seriously. He was always taking advantage of the time in ports, exploring new places. I saw him handling challenges with a cool head - when you work with the same people for an extended time, there are always things that can come up interpersonally, and he showed me how valuable it can be to address things head on, so you can clear the air and move forward. We worked together once more after that first contract, and he's been a great mentor and friend ever since

L: What do you enjoy most about the job, as either a pianist, bandleader, or both?

A: I love how versatile we are asked to be - just two weeks ago during the crossing we played for one guest entertainer who was a classical violinist - tricky show with lots of heavy lifting on the piano, and the next night I was playing keys/synth for an ABBA cover band, counting rests and dancing my butt off, having a blast. Also, this past year they had the piano players from the show band doing solo sets, and that has really stretched me as a player - coming up with arrangements, improvising, and learning new pieces. It's also been a good way for me to interact with more guests, and I think I've been able to connect with them through a shared love and appreciation for standards and popular music. As part of the showband, I've really enjoyed working with people from all over the world, and I'm grateful to play with so many fine musicians. I've developed a bit of a philosophy as a sideman/MD: though not every show will be our favorite (that's just the nature of having personal taste), I want to support and encourage the guest entertainer 100%. When they hit the stage, they should feel like a million bucks, and should feel comfortable with the band and the team. It just makes us all look good and gives us the best chance of a successful show. When it comes to performing, I try and let go and have fun as much as possible. If I can really get to that place of genuine joy (I know, it sounds lofty), it feels freaking great.

L: What’s a particularly funny story from the job on board?

A: When I was on my way to the Amazon onboard the Prinsendam, we were playing for a guest entertainer, and right as we finished up a song, the sound system shut off and there was an alarm over the intercom. I looked at the bass player, and he guessed "man overboard." The cruise director, however, said on with the show, so we continued, and as we played, staff from guest services were searching the auditorium and the rest of the ship. Turns out the missing man was on his own balcony. They think his wife dozed off, woke up panicked that he wasn't there, and worried he went over the railing, without actually checking outside. Considering the behavior of guests, in general, it’s a wonder that this doesn’t actually happen more often.

L: What are some days out in different ports that have really stuck with you?

A: One of my favorite perks of the job is getting to be an escort on shore excursions. The actual duties are so minimal (filling out a survey at the end), that it's really just a free ride to amazing places. From seeing world wonders like the tower of Pisa, Pompeii, Ephesus, and the Acropolis, to countless gardens, temples, and Buddhas in Asia, to snorkeling, catamarans, or all-inclusive beach resort trips, I've seen so much, and done it all for free!

L: Who was Adam before ships, and who is Adam after five years of ships?

A: Before ships, I was freelancing for many years, without any kind of stable income. Gigs were always fluctuating, and I dabbled in many things to make money - teaching, accompanying, all kinds of singing & playing, demo work, and piano bar performing. Ships opened up my life in a way I hadn't imagined, providing me with life-changing travel experiences, tons of playing experience, and stable income that let me breathe easy, knowing how much I was getting paid each month. Not only have I felt validated in my existing skills, but I've been able to grow in some areas that may have been weaker at the start. After 5 years of ships, I feel like my marketable skills are even stronger, and I have a greater sense of who I am and what I can bring to future gigs.

L:What would you say to musicians who are on the fence about working on a cruise ship?

A: If you have even just a small seed of curiosity - try a contract. Many musician contracts aren't terribly long, so you won't be losing much time by being at sea for a few months. For me, there are so many positives about the job, and the quirks of ship life are endearing.

L: What do you believe the benefits are of having an agency?

A: Lime has been a huge part of making this experience great for me. From the very start, Sam assessed my skills, encouraged me, and gave me some specific pointers, as he's an amazing keys player himself. The periodic phone calls and emails make me feel supported and keep the communication lines completely open. They respond to every email - I really couldn't be happier with how they seem to have delegated various tasks internally, and I've gotten to know bits and pieces about who they are as people through the years. They are proactive about securing future contracts for me, and I've been able to successfully book some really ideal itineraries with their help.