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Student Spotlight: Mary Zaborniak

Mary Zaborniak

Mary Zaborniak
Major: Music
Hometown: Darien

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, where she still works. 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 in January of 2010. She joined DuPage Chorale under Kesselman's leadership and is now playing the marimba in the Percussion Ensemble, led by Folker. She has also 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.”  

In 2011, 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 was accomplishing at COD was more 'in tune' with what I really wanted," she said. "I enjoy the camaraderie and diversity of students and professors of COD. So I returned to COD (in spring 2013) in order to complete my AFA. I only have one Gen Ed to complete. But, in the meantime, I am also once again enrolled in DuPage Chorale with Professor Kesselman, Percussion Ensemble with Professor Folker, Small Group Jazz with Dr. Tallman, and Piano with Dr. Reddington, and I am having a ball!"

After finishing her studies, Zaborniak would like to direct an orchestra or chorale. Regardless of her path, she 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