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A child prodigy, Carnegie Hall, then a life sharing music in St. Petersburg

Zola Shaulis Kollock was a renowned concert pianist. She died at 78.
Zola Mae Shaulis Kollock was called "one of the most interesting pianistic personalities of the day" by legendary pianist Arthur Rubinstein.
Zola Mae Shaulis Kollock was called "one of the most interesting pianistic personalities of the day" by legendary pianist Arthur Rubinstein. [ Courtesy Mila Turtle ]

In January, Zola Shaulis Kollock sat at the grand piano in her home music studio. Nearby, on a laptop screen, was the man who leads the St. Petersburg Opera Company and the Tampa Bay Symphony.

Mark Sforzini sat at a piano, too. But this wasn’t a lesson. Mrs. Kollock called it a piano sharing.

Piano was a secondary instrument for Sforzini, one he’d always wanted to work on again. Mrs. Kollock encouraged him.

She was a fan and a renowned concert pianist.

For nearly her whole life, music was both Mrs. Kollock’s refuge and where she captivated the world.

She died of natural causes on March 25. She was 78.

Maybe you never heard her music. You can now. Hit play on the video below. Then, please keep reading.

Pianist, 7, solos with Philadelphia Orchestra

By The Associated Press, April 23, 1950

A wisp of a child in a peach colored organdy dress stepped calmly onto the stage of the Academy of Music today as soloist with one of the world’s greatest orchestras.

Zola Mae Shaulis, only 7, played faultlessly through the first movement (allegro) of the difficult Mozart “Concerto in A Major” accompanied by the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Then, to the applause of an audience of 3,000 and the orchestra of more than 100, she walked a dozen steps to the wings – exactly the same journey that pianists Paderewski, Josef Hofmann and Arthur Rubinstein covered in half a dozen strides after other, similar concerts.

Mrs. Kollock started playing the piano at 3 and quickly advanced. At 7, the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra described her as having "a marvelous talent, one that very few possess."
Mrs. Kollock started playing the piano at 3 and quickly advanced. At 7, the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra described her as having "a marvelous talent, one that very few possess." [ Courtesy Mila Turtle ]

A duet

Jane Shaulis, now retired from a career with New York’s Metropolitan Opera, likes to say she grew up with a bruised right side. She and her big sister played duets for years, and their mother left it to Zola to get her to focus.

An elbow to the ribs usually did it.

The sisters found friendship, though, in their life on the road, playing concerts while missing school. Jane, two years younger, eventually quit the piano and started singing.

For her sister, the piano was always an escape.

“Mother would say after dinner, ‘Okay, somebody go wash the dishes, somebody go practice,’ and Zola would run to the piano, and I would run to the kitchen.”

Mrs. Kollock and her sister grew up playing together. They appeared on television shows, including Arthur Murray's.
Mrs. Kollock and her sister grew up playing together. They appeared on television shows, including Arthur Murray's. [ Courtesy Mila Turtle ]

Zola Shaulis Kollock wins Naumburg Piano Competition

The Daily American, Somerset, Penn., Feb. 8, 1971

Zola Shaulis Kollock of Stockton, Calif., formerly of Somerset area, has won the Naumburg Piano Competition in New York City, Jan. 15.

...She was the only female to reach the finals composed of the best pianists age 18-30. She again competed against two whom she displaced for first place in the Rio De Janeiro International Competition last year when she was named the winner …

She will make a concert tour in Germany starting March 24, at which time she will record Bach’s Goldberg Variations and other classical selections. She will be accompanied by her husband, a professor at the University of Pacific, and their two-year-old daughter, Mila.

Mrs. Kollock played Carnegie Hall in 1974. "She was a very private person but when in a social situation, she worked the room, she made sure that she spoke to everyone and found out their story," sister Jane Shaulis said. "She was a fabulous listener and incredible supporter."
Mrs. Kollock played Carnegie Hall in 1974. "She was a very private person but when in a social situation, she worked the room, she made sure that she spoke to everyone and found out their story," sister Jane Shaulis said. "She was a fabulous listener and incredible supporter." [ Courtesy Mila Turtle ]

Kazoos all around

Mila Turtle doesn’t remember much from those early years in Europe, where her mother became a protégé of legendary pianist Arthur Rubinstein, recorded an album and delighted audiences.

After her family returned to Ringwood, N.J., Turtle remembers drifting to sleep as her mother practiced.

In 1974, Mrs. Kollock performed in her solo debut at Carnegie Hall. Mrs. Kollock and her sister performed together a few more times before the pianist decided to retire from concertizing.

She’d realized that the life of a concert pianist was a lonely one, she told her sister.

Turtle learned to play by ear, but didn’t aspire to make piano her life. Her mother understood. Turtle later played the bass in a punk band.

Mrs. Kollock still played professionally now and then and built a management company, Conductors International. Each Christmas Eve, she welcomed family, friends and neighbors into her living room, passing out maracas, noisemakers and antler-horn headbands. There, everyone got to make music.

The world-renowned concert pianist also started a marching kazoo band. They had two parades a year.

Mrs. Kollock won three international piano competitions: The Bach International Competition, The Concurso Internacional de Piano and the Naumburg International Piano Competition. She and her family lived in Spain while she performed in Europe. There, she met Arthur Rubinstein, who helped her career in the United States.
Mrs. Kollock won three international piano competitions: The Bach International Competition, The Concurso Internacional de Piano and the Naumburg International Piano Competition. She and her family lived in Spain while she performed in Europe. There, she met Arthur Rubinstein, who helped her career in the United States. [ Courtesy Mila Turtle ]

Nose flutes and affirmations

After snacks of peanut butter and crackers or fruit and yogurt, Mrs. Kollock insisted her grandchildren wash their hands. Then, seated at her grand piano, she quizzed them with flashcards to learn their notes. The power to play comes from the arms, she showed them, not the hands.

Later, she bought Zoë and Owen Turtle their first ukuleles, worked with Zoë when she picked up the violin at 6 and with Owen on piano. Her grandkids and neighbor kids she worked with got to perform with her at Christmas Eve. And Mrs. Kollock helped her granddaughter pick songs when she started street performing in high school.

Zoë, now 24, teaches music.

The world knew her Nana as a musician, but the family knew her as a listener and collector of stories. She’d stop anyone to talk and had a way of getting people to open up.

She also kept an eclectic assortment of instruments, from the melodica to a nose flute to the theremin, which creates sound from vibrations.

Mrs. Kollock kept paper affirmations in a jar and on sticky notes around her home. She practiced Tai Chi. And she played the piano every day, not for thousands or awards or acclaim anymore. Just for herself. And for the music.

Mrs. Kollock with her husband, daughter and her family. She was always the last to leave a party, her daughter said, and an ardent list maker, her granddaughter said.
Mrs. Kollock with her husband, daughter and her family. She was always the last to leave a party, her daughter said, and an ardent list maker, her granddaughter said. [ Courtesy Mila Turtle ]

Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

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