The department is saddened to announce the passing of former professor Michael Zenge. Professor Zenge taught piano, keyboard literature, and the history and interpretation of Lieder in the department for 34 years. His colleagues and students remember him as a cherished colleague and valued mentor.
Professor Zenge appeared as a soloist and accompanist throughout the United States in venues such as New York’s Weill and Merkin Recital Halls, and Washington’s National Gallery. Internationally, he performed in Germany, Austria, and Taiwan. He studied piano at the Oberlin College Conservatory, the University of Illinois, and the Akademie Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. After finishing this study, Professor Zenge began teaching at the UNC Department of Music. He was awarded a Fulbright grant for study at the Musikhochschule in Munich, Germany, and later won a Senior Fulbright Lectureship to teach in Taipei, Taiwan, at the National University of the Arts. For eighteen summers he was Artist-in-Residence at the Franz-Schubert-Institut, Baden-bei-Wien, Austria, teaching the art of the Lied to young professional singer/pianist duos and to college teachers from around the world.
As a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, he participated in the Aston Magna Academy in Schubert Studies. The University of North Carolina honored him with two teaching awards, including an endowed chair for outstanding undergraduate teaching, the first to be awarded to a member of the University’s fine arts faculty. While at the University of North Carolina, he served as elected Chair and Vice-Chair of the Division of Fine Arts, Acting Chair of the Department of Music, Associate Chair for Applied Studies, Chair of Piano Instruction, and Director of the Piano Teachers Workshop.
After his retirement from UNC, Professor Zenge and his wife Jeanine move to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The department extends its sympathies to Jeanine, their son Peter, and all his family and friends.
Professor Zenge’s funeral service will be at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John in Albuquerque, NM on Saturday, February 4 at 10:30 AM MST (12:30 PM EST). It will be live-streamed through St. John’s website and will be available to watch on Facebook or YouTube.
The family notes that memorial gifts can be sent to Friends of Cathedral Music, c/o The Cathedral of St. John, P.O. Box 1246, Albuquerque, NM 87103, or the UNC Department of Music.
Continuing reading to view the remembrances numerous music department faculty members have shared of their beloved colleague.
“I was so sad to hear of Mike’s passing. He was my cherished colleague until his retirement. Mike had a special affinity for Lieder accompaniment, his playing filled with delicacy and sensitivity. His presence in the department was quiet, modest, and always thoughtful. His students absolutely adored him, and were often the top pianists in the department, frequently winning competitions locally and beyond. His leadership of the piano faculty was careful and beautifully organized. Mike was a team player in every sense of the word. Near the end of his teaching career, he suffered from vision problems stemming from an eye procedure, and had difficulty seeing the notes on the page. At the time of his retirement, he loved driving what was clearly the “hottest” car on campus. It was a side of Mike we had never seen before. It was a loss for all of us when he and Jeanine moved out west, but it was what they truly wanted to do. My contact with him was very limited after that. Once, I learned that he was considering moving back to Chapel Hill to be in a local retirement community. I wrote to him about it, but that was not meant to be. For a while, a lot of us thought we would welcome him “home” with open arms. I miss his presence, his grace, his professional commitment to the highest levels of artistry.” -Professor Emeritus Brooks de Wetter-Smith
“Michael Zenge became a valued mentor for me as a young singer studying in the department in the late 1980s. He was a brilliant scholar and gifted pianist with masterful technique as well as exquisite musicianship. I enjoyed his classes on German Lieder as he was a known guru in that field working with the likes of Elly Ameling, and others of that generation. Michael was the first true mentor I had, outside voice lessons, that would take the time to coach me on German repertoire. As the first professional collaborative pianist I knew, he remained a huge influence for me through graduate school and later when I returned to the area. I lost touch with Michael once he left UNC and moved to Albuquerque, NM, but I understand he greatly enjoyed his retirement there with family, including at least one grandchild. I am saddened to learn of Michael’s passing but feel so lucky to have been able to work closely with him in my formative years as a singer. One of the greats…bless his memory. Deepest condolences to the Zenge family during this difficult time.” -Professor Timothy Sparks
“I first met Mike in 1979 when he came to give a recital and master class at the small college in Minnesota where I was teaching at the time. It was an honor to do my first full faculty recital at UNC with him in January 1983, and I was fortunate to play lots of chamber music with him over the remaining 18 years we over-lapped. He was our first piano faculty member to do serious work with the fortepiano, and he collaborated with many of us on period instruments. The last time I saw him was in 2003 when I stayed with him and Jeanine in Albuquerque when I was there for a meeting. They had a wonderful life there, and my thoughts are with Jeanine, Peter, and family.” -Professor Brent Wissick
“I was a piano student here when Professor Zenge was on the faculty. He had a strong interest in Lieder – he had a fortepiano in his office and taught an amazing Vocal Literature class for singers and pianists. He was a fantastic musician and extremely energetic teacher. I had some lessons with him when Fritz Whang was away and I remember him accidentally tossing pencils across the room sometimes as he excitedly demonstrated phrasing. He was an inspiration to the students he taught. Sending sympathy to his family and his many friends.” -Professor Jeanne Fischer
“Professor Zenge was a wonderful player! He was one of the ‘Big 3’ pianists while I was an undergraduate along with Fritz Wang and Marvin Blickenstaff. He administered my piano proficiency test and was very kind to a young man, intimidated by such a talent. My condolences to his family on his loss.” -Professor Billy Stewart
“Mike Zenge was a wonderful musician and lovely person in every way. When Terry Rhodes and Stafford Wing and I were preparing performances of the complete Italienisches Liederbuch by Hugo Wolf in 1999 I reached out to Mike for some interpretive suggestions regarding the intricate piano accompaniments in those fantastic songs. He was generous with his time and encouraging in every way possible. He also appeared as soloist with our orchestra in 1996 in the Ravel Concerto for the Left Hand, which he played brilliantly. He was an exceptional member of our faculty until his retirement.” -Professor Tonu Kalam
“Luckily many of us seemed to have experienced the magic of Mike’s music making and teaching. I have many fond memories of our incredible piano faculty when I arrived, and in particular a concert when Mike took on Beethoven’s Op. 106, almost as a dare from his colleagues, it seemed. Hill Hall was packed – pre new Art Department building, which meant we had an actual parking lot. It was a wonderful concert, too. What comes to mind when I think of Mike was his depth of knowledge on whatever he was studying, preparing for performance. It wouldn’t come out just like that, but when needed he would just bring it all together. Also, he didn’t shy from some of the new music either, collaborating with me on a few of those ‘questionable’ compositions suggesting music as we knew it was destined for the dustbin. Above all, he loved German song and all that goes with it. He was truly a marvelous collaborator. He was a wonderfully dedicated teacher, colleague and friend. I am sad to learn he is gone.” -Professor Don Oehler