Greg Zielke hasn’t lost his drive for planning and directing choral music programs.
In fact, you could say he has more drive than ever.
This summer, Zielke returned to Tabor College, his alma mater, as arts director and professor of music. For most of his week, Zielke coordinates and promotes the myriad programs, concerts and events taking place in the new Shari Flaming Center for the Arts.
But every Tuesday, he hops into his vehicle and drives 255 miles to Omaha, Neb., to rehearse with the prestigious Omaha Symphonic Chorus, which he serves as artistic director and conductor. He then makes the long return trip to resume his work at Tabor.
Zielke became aware of the OSC when he joined the Grace University faculty in 1991 and served as chair of the music department from that time until last year.
Founded in 1946 as the Apollo Club by the dean of the College of Music at the University of Omaha, the OCS was incorporated as a non-profit organization in August 1971. OCS sings music of all genres and periods, from classical to a cappella, to masterpieces or international folk traditions. All styles are represented in the group’s diverse repertoire.
Zielke joined the OSC’s tradition of distinguished directors when he was hired for the 2001-2002 season. Under his leadership his roster of 100-plus singers is augmented or reduced to meet the needs of the each program. Chorus members come from all walks of life and are selected annually by audition.
“We generally have four concerts each season, sometimes it’s been as many as six,” Zielke said. “In terms of major performances, we usually do four. The biggest event each year is ‘Christmas at the Cathedral.’ It’s a big deal because it’s inside the cathedral, one of the most important spaces in Omaha.
“At the time I was hired, it had recently been renovated, so the place is really stunning and beautiful, and it had recently received a new organ that has very interesting features. We try to highlight it in some way at all of our concerts.”
Another lure that keeps Zielke on the road are opportunities to combine the OSC with the Omaha Symphony.
“Having that collaboration with them has been one of the significant aspects of my life, really — to conduct them and do a concert with them,” Zielke said. “We are not in any way an official chorus with the symphony, but we have done many, many concerts with them.”
As conductor, Zielke desires to reach out to younger singers.
“We’ve kind of gotten into the habit of doing some kind of collaboration with a college choir, and before that we even did some things with high school choirs because we realize the future of our chorus is young people,” he said.
“For our gala (annual fundraiser), only about 38 are participating in the singing part, but for the Christmas concert, it’s generally everybody,” he said. “Other concerts might be 70 or 90 – it just depends on the concert and what we need.”
One might presume that performance night is the adrenaline high point for Zielke. Not so.
“Conducting a rehearsal is something that always energizes me, and something I look forward to,” he said. “Not every rehearsal goes well, but that doesn’t seem to matter. I think rehearsals are often more fulfilling than the performances because typically we spend more time with the choir in a rehearsal setting.”
Zielke doesn’t know how long he will continue his weekly runs between Hillsboro and Omaha, but he hopes the connection with the OSC can continue. He said he enjoys the friendships and opportunities to work with people who are passionate about choral music, and the opportunities to find interesting and creative programming ideas.
Zielke is already planning the upcoming season.
“Next season, if things fall into place, the Christmas concert theme is going to be ‘Christmas around the world,’ where we explore different types of Christmas traditions through music.
“In the spring, we’re going to do a collaborative concert with a bluegrass band. We’ve done it with a mariachi band, we’ve done it with a Dixieland band, as well as more traditional groups, like a brass ensemble – and of course, with the orchestra many, many times.”