Lost and Found: Prodigy Pianist
by Peter Zelchenko July 24, 2009

Times are tough these days. We received a call this week, from upstairs. The Gapers Block rank and file have been directed to reduce their air intake to conserve energy, and so we aren't making as much money maintaining the AC system down here in the bowels of Gapers Block HQ. (Too, our work running the old spirit duplicator has been in gradual decline. We are informed this is due to the recent advent of e-mail.)

Our management -- up on the 56th Floor, or so they claim, although we personally have never visited -- our management has ruthlessly, ruthlessly slashed our compensation package, now insisting on paying us for the heating-and-cooling component of our labor based on differential savings per therm. We aren't even sure what that means, but it sounds draconian. Whenever we think about it, we must stand over the spirit duplicator, whose fumes, we once discovered, give us mild relief from anguish.

When we complained, they threatened to cut the power to the AC unit entirely and buy a LEED-certified hand crank for the air conditioner pump which they claim they saw at the Center for Green Technology near Garfield Park. We simply don't have the back muscles to hand-crank an air-conditioner compressor for a skyscraper.

In this -- hmph! climate -- of fear, we have been forced to sunlight™. (We often tend to work nights, which explains why we coined this new expression.) One of our sunlighting™ sidelines is locating lost people. We appear to be more competent at this than at deep-frying falafel. Please don't tell GB management that we are sunlighting™.

The people we look for, and the people on whose behalf we look, are so fascinating, we thought it would be fun to highlight them in Party Line. (It's okay, management never actually reads Party Line, so the secret is relatively safe.)

Back in March, we searched for a pianist named Zola Shaulis. We did this for writer Hugh Iglarsh. The original inquiry:

Shaulis was a child prodigy pianist from New Jersey who suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from view in the 1980s. She has some terrific Bach recordings from the '70s, plus a recording of a Samuel Barber piece that I love. I'd love to track her down and write a story about her career and herself.

I came up with one address for her -- at [address deleted] Road, Ringwood, NJ. I mailed a letter to Ringwood and it came back -- "no forwarding address." There's one clue I haven't followed up -- [since] the 1970s, I know she is/was married to the poet William Kollock.

What intrigues me is the near-total lack of information about her on the Internet -- surprising for one of the top Bach interpreters in Europe (where she lived a while) for a good decade.

As I say, I'd be willing to pay for your time if you can dig anything up [like] an address and/or phone number. Let me know!

Piece of cake. Within about 20 minutes we'd tracked her and Kollock down to Florida and then had a nice long chat with Kollock -- no slouch himself -- about his poetry* and his more recent career as a painter. And it turns out Jane Shaulis, Zola's talented sister, sings at the Met in New York. Here is Iglarsh's unedited commentary:

"A 7-year-old girl pianist held an audience of 3,000 persons spellbound this afternoon in her performance as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra. She is Zola Mae Shaulis, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Newman Shaulis of Millville, N.J. ...Applause brought her back to the stage four times at the beckoning of Alexander Hilsberg, the conductor." --New York Times, April 23, 1950

Back in Ann Arbor in 1985 or so, at the Liberty Music Shop, I had bought an LP of Zola Shaulis' terrific version of Samuel Barber's "Excursions," and have always wondered what became of this one-time child prodigy and award-winning concert pianist. Internet and database searches revealed absolutely nothing past the late '70s, which piqued my curiosity further. How -- and why -- does a well-known musician disappear so abruptly and completely? Through Peter's assistance, I got in touch with Zola, who now lives most of the year in St. Petersburg, Florida, and we had a wide-ranging conversation, augmented with e-mails.

A kind and modest person, perhaps a bit too balanced as a person and real as an artist to be comfortable in a celebrity-oriented musical culture, Zola retired from the concert scene 30 years ago to raise her daughter. In conversation, some of the old emotional scars of prodigyhood and a rigorous touring schedule became visible. But she still plays, teaches and thinks about music, and perhaps she may surprise us again with her musical intelligence and elegant technique. I want to be there when she does. Thank you, Peter.

And, thanks for the plug, Mr. Iglarsh. We will cheerfully accept unmarked twenties. Did we happen to set a price?

(*"Six degrees" footnote: Will Kollock has shared the poetry stage with New York poet Hal Sirowitz, whose neurotic filial paeans typically beginning with "Mother said..." are classic New York-style poetic jewstice. Sirowitz once told us he was convinced he is closely related to us, through our late (great) granduncle, William I. Sirovich, the flamboyant New Deal Congressman from New York's Lower East Side. We tend to doubt his claim to our forefather on genealogical grounds, but we do enjoy his poetry.)


Update, February 12, 2010: Jack Moore of Philadelphia sends us the scan below (click to zoom in) of a musical program, with this note: "I read with interest your Gapers Block on Zola Mae Shaulis. I was recently going through some papers in a music library, and came across the attached. It's a concert program from a small orchestra in Bridgeton, N.J. (the next town over in New Jersey from where Zola Mae was reared). She appeared there just prior to playing in the Philadelphia Orchestra concert you mention in your article. I don't know if you, or she, would be interested in seeing it. I can't say I'd heard her name before (I grew up in Bridgeton and became a musician, though the Bridgeton Symphony was long out of business by the time I came along)."

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