Growing up in Fond du Lac, Wis., Richard Zielinski was the typical driven student who sampled nearly everything his school had to offer. He played football and basketball, ran track, sang in the choir and played trombone and percussion in the band. By the time he reached college, Zielinski began focusing more on vocal music, eventually earning a degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He would go on to complete masters and doctoral degrees in choral music. I recently met with Zielinski, an engaging, outgoing individual whose enthusiasm for his work is infectious. Now in his first year as director of choral activities at OU, Zielinski conducts the University Chorale and the OU Opera Chorus. He and colleague Mark Lucas also established the Singing Sooners, a student group that performs OU spirit songs in addition to lighter, more popular fare. "I had known about OU’s choral program since the days of Bev Henson (1973-78) and knew there was a singing spirit here that was intriguing,” Zielinski said. "When I arrived in September, I had a sense that these students really just wanted to sing. Whether we’re doing a classical music festival or performing university spirit songs, to me it’s all singing.” Zielinski came to OU with a broad range of choral conducting experiences. He taught four years at the State University of New York at Plattsburg, six years at Mercer University in Georgia, seven years at Indiana State University and eight years at the University of South Florida. While in Florida, Zielinski also established the Richard Zielinski Singers, a 40-member professional choir made up of "some of the dearest friends from my past.” Noted choral conductor Dale Warland was so impressed when he heard the group that he compared it to a limousine. "Drive it as much as you can,” Warland told Zielinski. Believing that singing connects people to the history of a university, Zielinksi has become involved in vocal music ensembles many top directors typically hand over to graduate students. In addition to the Singing Sooners, Zielinski has established "The Oh By Gum Guys,” a 16-member, all male group whose name derives from the ending of "Boomer Sooner.” Zielinski will share the stage with fellow faculty members Steven Curtis and Mark Lucas at an 8 p.m. concert Thursday in Catlett Music Center’s Sharp Concert Hall, 500 W Boyd. Titled "Christmas at OU,” this holiday program will feature all of the OU choirs. For the finale, Zielinski will combine the groups for "A Musicological Journey Through the Twelve Days of Christmas.” "I want people to come here to experience a wide variety of choral music,” Zielinski said. "Voices need to grow through choral experience. Students learn the rudiments, we talk about the message of the text, we personalize the music and then polish it step by step. Some is technical, some is emotional. Once that happens, you discover some wonderful voices that are connected to their spirits.”
HAVE YOU MET?
Richard Zielinski→Title: Associate professor of music, director of choral activities, University of Oklahoma. →Hometown: Milwaukee, Wis. →Age: 50. →Education: Bachelor of Music in music education, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Master of Music in vocal performance/choral conducting, Eastman School of Music; Doctor of Musical Arts in choral music, University of Illinois.