CSO Principal Flutist, Jim Zellers

jim-zellersQ: For how long have you been playing and performing music?

A: I began playing the piano at age 4. I attended Catholic school as a child and everyone went to Mass each morning before school began. I was recruited to play the organ for this Mass starting at age 8, and have been performing on some sort of instrument in public ever since. I started playing the flute in high school along with other wind instruments in the band (clarinet, oboe and saxophone) but really focused in on flute as a senior.

Q: How many and what instruments do you play?

A: I currently perform on piano and organ, and all the flutes (bass flute, alto flute, C flute and piccolo).

Q: What is your favorite part about performing in front of a live audience?

A: The interaction with the listeners–to play a beautiful phrase and see someone moved by what you have just played for them.

Q: If you could play any instrument you don’t already know, what would you play?

A: I always wanted to play the French Horn or the Cello.

Q: What are some of your other hobbies?

A: My main hobby and passion (besides music) is breeding and training dogs. My breed is Australian Shepherds (a herding breed for sheep and cattle). My husband and I have 4 Aussies that we train and compete in Confirmation, Agility and Competitive Obedience. I also have trained one of our dogs to do therapy work, and we do therapy calls in nursing homes, hospitals and the like. We are the proud owners of Bella Madra Australian Shepherds Kennel in Atlanta.

Q: What is the most bizarre performing experience you have had?

A: When I lived in New York City, I formed a wind trio (flute, clarinet and bassoon) that would play receptions and live events. We got a call once to provide background music for a reception which celebrated “the opening of a new line”. I thought it would be a fashion/clothing line. When we arrived, we discovered (much to our dismay) that it was the opening of a new line of cigars! Hundreds of people in the ballroom were smoking! The smoke hung in the air like a thick cloud and our eyes watered. After playing in that room for several hours, I had to hang my tuxedo outside for 2 days to keep my apartment from smelling of stale cigar smoke.

Q: What is your favorite music genre to listen to?

A: I enjoy Opera a lot, although I confess that I listen to whatever project I have coming up next–one week opera, the next week symphony, then chamber music, so it tends to move around based on my work schedule

Q: What is on your latest playlist?

A: We are about to begin rehearsals in Atlanta Opera for a production of The Flying Dutchman, so that’s high on my playlist at the moment–that and the Lieberman Flute Concerto!

Q: What musician or group of musicians inspires you the most?

A: If I had to pick a symphony, it would be Montreal–they play with such distinction and musical savvy that I am always inspired by their recordings. My favorite flute recording artist also happens to be my teacher, Carol Wincenc–she plays with such personality and genuine “heart and soul” that it is hard not to be inspired by her musicianship and artistry.

Q: Which three people (famous or otherwise) would you most like to invite to a dinner party, and why?

A: I would most like to invite the people who I find the most inspiring in three areas of my life that are most important to me: My favorite musical composer is Johannes Brahms. The spiritual/religious leader who most inspired me in life was Pope John Paul II. Perhaps the 3rd person who is famous only to me, is my Aunt Norma who as a child, opened the world of dogs and dog training to me. She would also keep the party interesting, and no doubt, have the other two roaring with laughter!

Q: What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of?

A: Of all the concerts I’ve played, the places I have visited and lived, and the academic degrees and milestones I have achieved, I am most proud that I was able to marry my best friend, and have a wonderful home and family life. No matter what you do in life, in the end all one has is love and family, in whatever form you define that for yourself. No matter how fulfilling it is, work is just that….work. What endures are relationships and the love you show to those around you.

Q: What did you want to be when you grew up?

A: From the time I was little, I either wanted to be a musician, or a doctor. I thought I should try music first, because it that didn’t work out, I could always go back to school and get my medical degree, but I couldn’t do the reverse and make up for all those years of lost practice. Now with my passion for dogs, I wonder how long it would take me to complete a veterinary degree!

Q: If you could attend any live performance (musical or otherwise) what would it be and why?

A: I would want to attend a performance of a Shakespeare play, or a groundbreaking work of any period done by superb actors–I am inspired by talented people who are truly committed to bringing everything to their art, and live theater can be extremely powerful and inspiring when done at the highest levels.

Q: In your years with the CSO, what has been the greatest experience?

A: Since joining the CSO in 2001, my greatest experience was playing the very first symphony concert in the brand new RiverCenter Bill Heard Theatre–I was the featured soloist on that CSO concert playing the Lucas Foss Renaissance Concerto. To walk out on stage and have every seat filled–to perform in that beautiful new hall, and then to hear the thunderous applause from a full house at the end–it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget!

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