Final Note: Dr. Michael Zearott

Life Member. Piano
8/22/1937 – 7/21/2019

Dr. Michael Zearott, a longtime resident of Clarkston, WA, with a world-spanning career in the arts, died at his home after a long illness on July 21, 2019. He was 81.

He was born on August 22, 1937, in San Francisco, CA, to Louis Zearott and Bonnie Northrop. His father was a musician, playing trumpet with Tommy Tucker’s band and others during the Big Band era, and Michael grew up surrounded by music. From an early age, Michael studied the piano, eventually earning three degrees at UCLA (including the first PhD there in composition). From there, he went on to be a conductor, winning the 1969 Dmitri Mitropoulos International Music Competition, which included as a prize a year as associate conductor of l’Orchestre National de Monte Carlo; he always held on to one of the letters he received from the royal family there.

Dr. Zearott served as assistant conductor of the Atlanta Symphony, music director of the Ojai International Festival, and music director of the Los Angeles Guild Opera, and held many other positions throughout his career. He accompanied UCLA master classes by Jascha Heifetz, Sascha Jacobsen, Berl Senofsky, and Gabor Rejto and was pianist for the chorales of Robert Shaw and Roger Wagner. He also conducted for Frank Zappa. Dr. Zearott worked with many talented young musicians at the Hidden Valley Music Seminars in Carmel, CA, and at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, CA. With Zoetrope Studios (Robert Harris) and Francis Ford Coppola (whose father Carmine Coppola composed the music), Dr. Zearott conducted the film score to the 1929 Abel Gance film “Napoleon.” He also served on the faculty of various institutions of higher education, including CSLA and Lewis-Clark State College.

Dr. Zearott’s teachers included Dr. Richard Lert, Franco Ferrara, Jean Fournet, Hans Swarowsky, and Igor Markevitch (conducting); Emmanuel Bay, Gwendolyn Koldofsky, and William Pleeth (chamber music); Leonard Stein and Lukas Foss (composition); Alexander Karnbach, Bernard Comsky, Leo Smit, Syorgy Sandor, and Jakob Gimpel (piano); and Dr. Robert Stevenson (musicology).

In the early 1990s, Dr. Zearott moved to Clarkston, WA, where he continued to teach piano at Nova Music Studio and at Lewis-Clark State College and worked on “Napoleon” and various guest-conducting projects. He also enjoyed giving concert series for a circle of close friends.

He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Bonnie Lou “Susie.” He is survived by his former partner Annette Klover and his children, Morgan and Sabrina Zearott, as well as his sister, Jenny Waldschmidt.

The family would appreciate any letters of remembrance. They may be mailed to Annette Klover, P.O. Box 115, Pullman, WA 99163.

4 thoughts on “Final Note: Dr. Michael Zearott

  1. Mary Jane Tashiro

    This year, 2020, with the Covid 19 epidemic and the enforced isolation time, I started to look back on my early days studying music. I remembered one teacher that stood out. In 1973, I registered at CSULA to complete the half a year I needed to get my BA degree. My 2 children had graduated from UCLA, so it was the opportune time to do this. That Fall quarter, I signed up for a Conducting class with Michael Zearott. He looked younger than me and all the students were in their late teens just entering college. I vividly remember how he asked pertinent questions to assess each student’s knowledge of music. Later when he began to perform a different Brandenburg Concerto by memory each week, I knew that this teacher was beyond ordinary. Bach was a favorite of mine, so I listened intently and liked his interpretation as well as his easy delivery. One day he gave us a test in conducting. He presented us with a page from a contemporary work and we were expected to sing and conduct it by sight. I remember looking at the syncopated rhythms and feeling a little apprehensive that my voice would hold up. Was I surprised that I was the only one in the class that passed! After that, Mr. Zearott requested from me what I least expected. He wanted me to perform a 4 hand piano composition with him by Wallingford Riegger for the Faculty Concert. Mr. Riegger had attended one of my recitals when I was studying in NY; therefore, this became a double treat for me. Just this morning, June 28, ’20, when I decided to look on the internet to find out about my long-ago teacher, Mr. Michael Zearott, I saw that he had already passed away. I immediately was sorry I had not known of the enormity of his credits and accomplishments. I also wish to say, as the others who wrote, that Mr. Zearott left an indelible impression on me. I appreciated that he was so generous to share with all us students his love of music through the quality of what he offered. I am now approaching 90 years old and have just celebrated 40 years of composing.

  2. Doris Bevins

    Michael was such an inspiration to us! We were fortunate to have known him during his last 25 years. We loved hearing him in concert – even in his home the last 3-4 years. Really loved knowing the family as well- Annette, Sabrina, and Morgan! My mother loved taking lessons from Michael for a few years before she went to live at Evergreen Estates. He was so proud of her!

  3. Julie Diesslin

    Michael Zearott leaves behind many wonderful memories of summer music making at Hidden Valley Music School with invited soloists the likes of Camilla Wicks, Pepe Romero and many others. We rehearsed in the big barn three hours in the morning and three more in the evening. It was the most intense, varied and exciting orchestra education I have ever experienced besides my summers at the Aspen Music Festival. I was very fortunate to have learned from such a bright and brilliant musician as Michael Zearott. He was also a extraordinary pianist. He gave so much of his energy and knowledge to so many young musicians who were blessed to have played under his baton at Hidden Valley and California State Los Angeles in the 1970’s. Michael Zearott asked me to perform the Saint-Saens Cello Concerto with the Hidden Valley Orchestra at the Sunset Auditorium in Carmel, California; it was a wonderful experience. I am very grateful to him for teaching me so much of the orchestral repertoire. Thank you MZ!

  4. JJ Townley

    I am extremely sad to hear of Dr. Zearott’s passing. I studied piano with Dr. Zearott at CSULA in 1974 for a few quarters prior to leaving for RedlandsU. It was a memorable experience. I greatly admired his raw genius for music and the sheer brilliance of his mind whether it was at the piano, on a podium, or composition. During lessons we’d have talks about the music industry and he was the first to clue me in about how duplicitous it could be; that only the strongest willed of musicians would survive being in it as an occupation. How right he was. I first heard him in concert when he joined the CSULA music department circa 1973. He played and conducted Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with the Nova Orchestra the first half and then the Symphony Fantastique on the second. During the 80’s I again heard him as pianist with Meli Mehta, Zubin’s father, and the American Youth Symphony playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto No 1. Over the decades I followed his career from a distance. He was a musician with an unparalleled genius for music that was never fully appreciated which I get angry over at times.


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