Faculty spotlight: Carol Zinavage

Over the next few months, we'll shine the spotlight on our fantastic faculty members. There's no better place to start than with Knoxville Symphony Orchestra principal keyboardist Carol Zinavage, who is now in her 11th year of teaching at CSA.

CSA faculty member Carol Zinavage.

Carol wasn't already a teacher when she came to CSA, but she saw how the opportunity would suit her. "The bulk of my career has been as a collaborative pianist and coach," she says, which has sometimes meant that she's spent as many as eight to 10 hours a day, for three months in a row, at the piano bench. In the late '90s, she was considering a career change into social work, and that's when CSA came calling. "It seemed a perfect fit," she says. "I could be a combination music teacher/social worker/mentor, and I wouldn't have to do so much playing."

Although she describes her teaching style as "total grab-bag," we think that's a way of saying she listens to her instincts, noticing little things that trip up students during the learning process. "I had a really good theory teacher in college who encouraged us to distill everything down to its simplest level and then build on that," she says. "Teaching kids of various aptitudes really puts that philosophy to use."

She never underestimates the power of stage fright. "There's nothing like the sheer terror of a piano recital when you're a performer, sitting there, looking at the names going by 'til it's your turn.... I try to help them with techniques to temper it."

In addition to classical music, Carol's students get inspiration from The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and songs by other players that exemplify particular lessons on the piano. And most just happen to be cool. "Everybody wants to learn the Ray Charles 'What'd I Say?' piano groove," she says.

"I feel that part of my 'mission' at CSA is to expose these kids to music and musical ideas that widen their world," she says. She and her students listen to a wide variety of music and talk about what it means, where it came from and how it makes them feel. In her classroom, music is a gateway to history and experience.

What does Carol Zinavage admire most about her students?

"Their tenacity in the midst of an instant society!" she says. "When I was a kid, we had a better understanding about process and time. These kids don't have much of a blueprint for that. A lot of my kids love the movie 'August Rush,' because the boy can play everything instantly. We talk about how that only happens in the movies! And they ruefully accept that fact, and keep on plugging. Good for them!"