A composition for the ages

William Zinn has performed with dozens of big name performers over the years. Photo by Phil Corso
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Boxes upon boxes of music and memories line the inside of William Zinn’s Bayside home. With a history like his, the longtime composer and performer has become well-versed in the language of music.

And for the last seven years, Zinn has used that language with hopes of accomplishing a project unlike any other he has done in his more than 88 years of life.

With help from Czech performers, the Wihan String Quartet, Zinn has worked to prepare a piece of music he would like to see packaged together with a book about the seven major Jewish holidays titled “The Seven Seasons.”

And for that book, Zinn said he knows exactly who has the kind of writing prowess and background to create something exceptional: Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel.

To get the author’s attention, Zinn composed “Elie Wiesel, A Portrait” with help from the Wihan String Quartet and plans on adding his own string quartet to fill an entire CD of music.

“It would be so very fitting,” Zinn said. “The book would be sold worldwide at holiday concerts and could become a tradition during the holidays.”

Zinn said his vision of the book would explain the meaning and history of each Jewish holiday, including traditional foods and practices to keep the religious stories alive. Though he said it could be anyone who joins him in writing the book, Zinn decided on Wiesel because he had already written extensively about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor and inspirational figure.

“With Elie Wiesel’s talent as an inspirational author, it would be a natural for him to write this book,” Zinn said, next to a stack of Wiesel books on his dining room table. “We are looking forward to the release of ‘Elie Wiesel, A Portrait’ and the future recording of ‘The Seven Seasons.’”

As part of his vision, Zinn said some of the proceeds from such a collaboration would be donated to the Israel Philharmonic because it is not the money he is after.

Zinn has more than 500 works to his credit, both original and arrangements. He has also composed countless pieces in Hebraic style, showing his pride for his roots.

Born in Harlem and raised mostly in the Bronx, Zinn said he started in music at a young age. He heard violin for the first time when he was 13 and said he was floored by the beauty of the sound.

“I was so moved when I first heard it,” Zinn said. “I started composing almost immediately after that.”

From that point on, Zinn was physically attached to his music. A photo album inside his home prominently shows some of the countless celebrities and musical legends with whom he had shared a stage, including Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Robert Goulet and Sammy Davis Jr. — to name a few. When he was younger, his original string quartet once performed with Albert Einstein, who played violin, at Princeton University, where the historic figure was teaching.

“Einstein invited us over to his house for pie and milk. We became very friendly,” Zinn said. “He was a good amateur player.”

After moving to Bayside in 1953, Zinn garnered an extensive history of musical experience throughout the world. He composed the International Anthem for World Peace, which is still sung at the United Nations today.

In 1980, Zinn said he founded a cultural exchange with China through the now-defunct International Symphony for World Peace, which he said existed to act like a musical Red Cross for the world, raising money for programs in poor countries. Zinn was also the founder of the Queens Festival Orchestra in Bayside in 1965.

“It is such a great privilege to be heard,” Zinn said, “so that experience was one-of-a-kind.”

Throughout his lifetime of musical experience as both a violinist and composer, Zinn became internationally known for being part of several symphony orchestras all over the world, and even served as concertmaster for the Queens Symphony Orchestra from 1969-71.

So before he calls it a career, the Bayside musician said he hoped to see his latest seven-year endeavor come to fruition by honoring the seven Jewish holidays through a combination of two enduring arts: literature and music.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Posted 12:00 am, September 14, 2012
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