So many of us have fond memories of music educator George Zimmerman who passed away last month at the age of 91. His love for both people and music will be missed.
“I always encourage everyone to sing along,” he said in a 1994 interview. “I have never told a child he can’t sing. Never. Music is for doing, not listening. It gives you a chance to get your insides out.”
George was frequently honored, and won the Ohio Music Association’s 1989 Distinguished Service Award. He donated his piano, his collection of musical instruments from around the world, more than 1,200 pieces of rare American sheet music, and scores of American musicals to the University of Dayton in 1994.
My own thoughts date back to high school when George was working as supervisor of music for the Dayton Public Schools. He would show in support of our musical and theatrical productions and then take the time to write encouraging personal notes to us afterwards. My husband and I were also fortunate enough to take one of his wonderful music appreciation classes at the University of Dayton.
A memorial “Celebration of Life” service for George is being planned at U.D. and we’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, today we’re paying tribute to this special man by sharing some thoughts from friends who knew and loved him.
From Richard Benedum, retired Professor of Music, University of Dayton, and founder of the original Dayton Bach Society.
For many in the city of Dayton and all of us on the UD campus, George was “Mr. Music.” Students clamored to get into his classes, the entire campus community came early to get a seat at his memorable holiday Carol-Sings, and his television shows brought music and the arts to a mass audience.
But George was also a wonderful mentor to faculty members — his experience and counsel made us all better. At times he could be cantankerous, but he always had a big heart. He loved to sit on a campus bench in the shade and talk — endlessly, it seemed; he was a kind of one-man “social media” for the arts. George was a friend to everyone who knew him and shared a meal with him.
From Ed Hatch, retired lecturer in German, University of Dayton
George exuded creativity, whether by his distinctive dress or his handle-bar moustache, with a pen or pencil or exhibiting his musical talent. He had a fine tenor singing voice and was able to accompany himself on the piano. He was by nature a teacher, an entertainer, a most engaging person.
George and I began doing what has become known as “Encore Vienna” in 1983, and we continued to co-host the program until he retired from UD. Originally we went to Vienna and stayed there for two weeks, listening to George lecture on music, attending concerts, operas, operettas, recitals and enjoying all the wonderful things that Vienna has to offer. Later we also included visits to Prague and Budapest.
George had been stationed in Vienna shortly after the end of World War II and was in charge of a club for U.S. military personnel across the street from the Volksoper, where he attended many performances. He loved Vienna and the music that was created there. One of his favorite composers was Haydn, and we always took a day-excursion to Eisenstadt, where Haydn had spent many years while in the employee of the Esterhazy family. We would visit Haydn’s apartment, his tomb and the Esterhazy palace, where he performed works that he had written, among others what has come to be know as the farewell symphony. On the way back to Vienna we also visited Haydn’s birthplace in Rohrau.
George’s home was unique in that it reflected its owner to a greater extent than any other home I have ever been in. He was a collector par excellence both in terms of taste and in terms of number of intriguing things. From room to room, corner to corner, it reflected George; from the old dining room table — and all of the small and large objects on various shelves in that room from his many travels to various countries over the years — to the Royal Doulton china, to the beautiful piano and various old musical instruments—all in playing condition—positioned here and there throughout the house, to his guest book, signed by everyone who crossed his threshold, many of whom were famous, to his collection of sugar cubes from every restaurant representing each country at the world’s exhibition in the 1930s. These he kept under his bed. And one can only speculate on what else he kept there.
There was nothing that was not interesting and did not have a story connected to it that George could make come alive. His piano, collection of old musical instruments and old unusual sheet music—the title of one piece I’ll never forget is “Heinz is Pickled Again,”—are now in UD’s care.
From Linda Snyder, Professor Emerita of Voice and Opera, University of Dayton and former chair of the UD Department of Music
George Zimmerman was a gentleman of many artistic talents, but first and foremost he was a wonderful and passionate music educator. His enthusiasm, humorous stories, hearty laugh, and engaging personality made the world of music come alive for his audiences and his students of all ages.
As a student in the Dayton Public Schools when George was DPS supervisor of music, I clearly remember being so impressed and inspired by this distinguished man sporting a bow-tie and handlebar moustache, and by his weekly TV program, “Passport to Music” on WLWD from 1968-75.
Seated at a grand piano, he would illustrate from the keyboard and talk without script about all types of music — from Mozart and Beethoven to American composers like Foster and Gershwin and his beloved musical theatre. Initiated by the Miami Valley Educational Foundation, the show received a regional Emmy Award. George’s second PBS series, “By George” focused on American music.
George served on the music faculty at the University of Dayton for 17 years, teaching music education courses as well as developing new courses in American Music History and History of American Popular Song.
We shared a mutual love for the American Musical Theatre, and this was a popular topic during our visits together at Bethany Village. My last personal visit was just 10 days before he passed, when Epiphany Lutheran children were caroling at Bethany. With that twinkle in his eye, George sang along with his tenor voice, clearly loving watching the children sing, and engaged several in conversation.
George’s guestbook is in the Zimmerman Special Collection in the archives at University of Dayton Roesch Library. In it are signatures from the many guests, including students, who visited with him in his Centerville home. George’s last project in recent months was identifying and updating bios on these guests, many of whom have achieved national and international recognition.