Music Feature: ‘Sunny’ Zank


Dr. M.J. ‘Sunny’ Zank: A Radiance of Accomplishment and Service to Music

By Virginia Franklin Campbell, Music Editor, and Verne D. Campbell

Dr. M.J. “Sunny” Zank, national music chair, is an inspired composer, a gifted violinist who has played in orchestras on several continents, an acclaimed university professor, and a highly skilled administrator who has held many diverse positions. It is impossible  to fully capture in a single, brief article the breadth and depth of study and the multiplicity of experiences that she has had.

Rarely does one individual have credentials in Kodaly (Hungary), Orff (Austria), Dalcroze (Germany), and, on the other side of the spectrum, has studied Gagaku, Hagaki, Kabuki, and Noh Drama from the Asian culture. Add to that a summer of study in Turkey, and one might begin to have a glimpse into this unique woman’s extraordinary background.

Sunny, as she is known, was nicknamed “Sunshine” by her mother many years ago. She came

Sunny Zank, with a Maggini violin, circa 1990.

from a musical family reaching back to her grandparents.

“Our piano was in a large room that was quite separate from the rest of the house, so I could spend hours — sometimes practicing and sometimes creating my own music,” she says. “When I was in grade 4, Robert Culver came into the classroom. He played violin for us. And then asked if anyone was interested in learning a string instrument. I went home and announced that I was going to play violin.”

With that, her life through music began.

The decision to major in music at the university level was made by the time she was 12 years of age. Her undergraduate studies were at the University of Oregon, where the budding composer became immersed in theory and composition classes.

Sunny at October 2016 Board meeting at Pen Arts.

“The best times at the University of Oregon were in theory and composition classes with Harold Owen. Harold could bring out the best in my compositional abilities,” she says. “This is the composer/theorist who also taught Morten Lauridsen at the University of Southern California prior to coming to the University of Oregon.”

After completing her bachelor’s degree, Sunny enrolled in a program known as the German Music Center. It allowed students to spend eight months in Europe seeing operas, symphonies, and organs; taking classes in comparative arts and German language; and seeing music education in European schools. During that time, she also studied composition in the aforementioned specialty schools.

One can only imagine the delight of the University of Oregon welcoming back its graduate for a master of arts degree in music. Her experiences outweighed that of any of her contemporaries.

It was about this time that marriage brought about a change in her career, and that was followed by the birth of a daughter. Both were monumental additions to her wonderful life.

Sunny continued on in her career teaching theory and composition at the University of Northern Colorado, while studying for her own doctorate of arts in music theory and composition. The doctoral concert of her own compositions opened the door to university positions in Saskatchewan, Minnesota, and finally Ohio.

Almost simultaneous with her appointment to the music faculty at Ohio Northern University (ONU), she became a Pen Woman in 1994-1995 and joined the Columbus Branch, now the Central Ohio Branch. Sunny became an active member because of her many personal compositions, but now she could join as an allied professional by citing her outstanding performing career and teaching skills.

“Violin playing, particularly in the orchestral world, was fun. But so was being part of touring groups like the Harry Bellafonte backup orchestra, directed by Robert DeCormier,” Sunny says. “Or when living in Germany playing in the large cathedrals with incredible musicians and directors for church services and concerts, and finally as an artist in residence and performing in varied venues.”

The scope of Sunny’s abilities is also evident in the realm of administration, having served as a representative to the National Association of Schools of Music, an active participant in the College Music Society, and as chair of the University Council and a member of the Board of Trustees of ONU. All of this in addition to presenting scholarly papers on several noted composers.

Dr. M.J. “Sunny” Zank is a breath of sunshine every time she enters a room. Her personal stature, calm voice, and quick smile immediately captivate those in her presence, and you quickly realize that you are in the presence of an uncommonly gifted and artistic woman.

Pen Women are blessed to have her as one of our own, and that blessing truly enriches the Board of Directors on which she presently serves. Sunny, as the lyrics of a well-known song proclaim, “please don’t take that sunshine away!”