Student Spotlight: Mary Zaborniak

Mary Zaborniak

Mary Zaborniak
Major: Music

Mary Zaborniak’s lifelong passion for music began at the age of 7, when she was growing up on the southwest side of Chicago and a door-to-door salesman sold an accordion to her parents.

“My brother and I learned the average standards of polkas and waltzes,” she said. “I was also part of an accordion orchestra through my late teens, where we had to transcribe classic pieces for a traditional orchestra to fit our musical style.”

 When she was in fifth grade, Zaborniak was encouraged by her schools’ nuns to take organ lessons. She subsequently became the church organist at the age of 12.

After graduating from high school, Zaborniak started college but stopped after one term.

“I grew impatient, so I joined a series of garage bands and played keyboards for weddings,” she said. “But I needed to keep a steady income, so I became a flight attendant.”

In 1986, Zaborniak was hired by United Airlines. She married and had a son, Mark, and she eventually forgot about music. Once a year, she pulled out her accordion or sat at the piano to play Christmas carols, and every so often she would speak with her husband about returning to school.

When her son Mark was ready for college, he enrolled at College of DuPage and was a member of the percussion ensemble. Zaborniak and her husband attended concerts at the McAninch Arts Center and spoke with Mike Folker, Applied Music coordinator and director of Percussion, and Lee Kesselman, professor/director of Choral Music.

With a renewed vigor, Zaborniak started at College of DuPage. She joined DuPage Chorale under Kesselman’s leadership and played the marimba in the Percussion Ensemble, led by Folker. She studied music theory and aural skills with COD professor Tom Tallman.

“I reviewed what I knew in my youth and learned vocabulary that I didn’t know,” she said. “I soaked in everything that the music faculty teaches. Karol Sue Reddington, my piano instructor, was so patient in teaching me proper piano technique and a variety of repertoire. I am also grateful for the support and positive attitudes of Professors Tallman, Kesselman and Folker. I could not and would not pursue my musical goals without them.”  

While at COD, she was one of six students from across the state to receive the $1,000 Illinois Community College Faculty Association scholarship.

As she was completing her requirements for the Associate in Fine Arts – Music degree, Zaborniak opted to transfer to Elmhurst College and complete a bachelor's degree after receiving a substantial scholarship. She started on her path of musical options, such as conducting and jazz piano improvisation but decided that it wasn’t quite what she wanted. 

“I realized that what I had accomplished at COD was more ‘in tune’ with what I really wanted,” she said. “I enjoyed the camaraderie and diversity of students and professors of COD. So I returned to COD in order to complete my AFA. And I again enrolled in DuPage Chorale with Professor Kesselman, Percussion Ensemble with Professor Folker, Small Group Jazz with Dr. Tallman, and Piano with Dr. Reddington.

“Many collaborations and friendships have been made from the music classes of COD. So, in my retirement from the airline industry, I have once again dedicated myself to performing live music. And it is live music – no karaoke or recorded tracks. It is live all the time.”

Now retired from United Airlines and having finished her AFA with high honors, a person goal for her, Zaborniak is focusing on performing live music solo, in jazz combos and big bands by playing piano, organ and accordion. She started her own jazz combo, Genevieve Jazz, and performs in clubs, including monthly gigs at The Drake Hotel in Oak Brook. She also performs in a German Oktoberfest trio called FESTMUSIK with Frank, Mary and Greg. They play regularly at Edelweiss Restaurant in Norridge.

Another venture, Genevieve Jazz French Duo, was recently featured in a segment on WGN Channel 9, promoting The Chicago French Market, and they strolled through the outdoor market for French Connection Day at Cantigny Park in Wheaton.

Zaborniak is happy to have music back in her life.

“I wanted to learn enough for my own personal satisfaction,” she said. “I had become complacent, sitting on the couch, watching TV and wasting time. This is a positive change. I’m now fulfilling the possibility I had so many years ago.”

More about the Music program

College of DuPage

425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn IL, 60137

(630) 942-2800 (Main)

(630) 942-3000 (Student Services)

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