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Music Major Spotlight: Zhoushu Ziporyn

Ziporyn ’17

The time is 11:45 on a Wednesday night in the bowels of Morrison Hall. Campus is mostly quiet, the lone sounds come from a few students trudging south after studying at Doe Library. Fog off the Golden Gate envelops Berkeley into an  silence. But in a Music Department’s practice room Zhoushu Ziporyn ’17 is fighting the hush. He’s pressing the boundaries of new music. He’s searching for the margins of what a violin can do. He’s synthesizing the sounds that been rattling around in his mind.

Ziporyn was drawn to the UC Berkeley Department of Music for a number of reasons. The open and friendly atmosphere, a holistic academic approach, an extensive library collection, and an amazing and an excellent faculty all drew Ziporyn to UC Berkeley. Now nearing graduation, Ziporyn is taking time to reflect on his winding musical journey.

“I ended up in Cal because I like what it stands for. I was intrigued by the diversity of ensemble groups offered at the music program,” noted Ziporyn.

Ziporyn started his musical career early, learning the violin as a child. He later found inspiration in the works of an eclectic collection of artists: Bach, The Beatles, Bill Evans, Prokofiev and Japanese traditional Gagaku music. As Ziporyn grew older he began playing in jazz and rock bands in his high school years and frequently jammed with his friends.

Since coming to Cal, Ziporyn has amassed an impressive academic and musical record. He won the 2016 Alfred Hertz Memorial Traveling Scholarship, allowing him to visit Japan and study traditional Japanese instruments, as well as learning from the masters of the Nō Theatre tradition. He also was a winner of the Department’s Nicola de Lorenzo Prize for composition in 2015-16. This semester, he opened the 2016 Fall Noon Concert series with an original solo piece for electric violin titled “The Absurdity of Now and Then.”

Ziporyn performing with Cine/Spin


Ziporyn is also a gifted composer. He’s penned original works such as “Gimme Some Context,” “Sleep’s Tree,” and “If Only You Were Cool” while he served as an Emerging Artist with The Sheldon Brown Quartet at the Emerald Tablet in San Francisco. He also worked collaboratively as musical artist in “Cine/Spin,” creating the music for the feature film “Valerie and Her Week of Wonders” (Jaromil Jires, 1969) at UC Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). Ziporyn also authored a collection of “Poetry Fugues for Seekers” in collaboration with UC Berkeley Astronomer Alexei Filippenko and Mycologist John Taylor.

Most recently Ziporyn wrote a piece titled “Une teinte de jaune bleuâtre qui fait plisser les yeux” which was premiered and performed by Director Davitt Moroney at the final University Baroque Ensemble concert before the Director’s retirement from UC Berkeley.

With graduation on the horizon on spring 2017, Ziporyn plans on returning to Japan to spend a year furthering his studies with the masters in the traditional arts of Japan. As a culmination of his studies in Japan last June, he will be premiering a segment of his musical theatre, “Tomorrow’s Sound,” with the Theatre of Yūgen in San Francisco May 2017. He’s also working with a special group of musicians and actors to materialize “Star Wars Palimpsest: Luke as A Pagan Hero,” an original musical theatre work that pits the parallels between the cosmology of the Star Wars movies with the story of Abraham and Isaac in the Bible, as a kind of postmodern cantata that aims to provoke further flexibility of thought.

“I honestly can’t believe that it’s already been four years. It has truly been a blast,” noted Ziporyn summing up his time at UC Berkeley. “As I face a future unknown to me about to unfold, one thing I do know is that I will always cherish my time at Cal and think back to it as a solid foundation to my future self and endeavors.”

-Alex Coughlin, UC Berkeley Music