It is with great sadness that we bring you the news of Tom Zajac’s death on August 31st. As many of you know from the updates in our concert programs this past season, he had been dealing for the past three years with aggressive brain tumors that evaded a number of surgeries and treatments. He was ever hopeful that those treatments would be successful, as they were for a short time, allowing him even this past season to perform in a few concerts. But ultimately, it was a losing battle. His wife Lilli was a hero as she supported, nurtured and remained with him constantly in these past few months. Many in the early music community rallied around him, and some, including Piffaro’s own Christa Patton, lent valuable hands-on aid to both Lilli and Tom.
Tom, the multi-instrumentalist par excellence, whether on recorder, bagpipe, sackbut, pipe & tabor, flute, and percussion of all sorts, leaves a big hole that no one person can ever fill. Aside from Joan and Bob, he was the longest standing Piffaro member. He joined the ensemble in 1989 and performed more concerts with Piffaro than any other member of the group.
In addition to his work as a performer with Piffaro and numerous other groups, he taught all across the country at early music workshops, and had a loyal following of students at the Amherst Early Music Festival, Madison Early Music Festival, The Texas Toot, The San Francisco Early Music Society’s Med/Ren workshops, and numerous others. For many years, he was on the faculty of Wellesley College, running the college collegium and fashioning creative programs for his students.
As former Piffaro member Adam Gilbert put it,
May the Heavens resound with the sounds of bagpipes, sackbuts, recorders, hurdy gurdy, pipe and tabor, and all manner of instruments today. I am sure they will have to knock out a wall in the Celestial Instrument Room to make way for our friend Tom Zajac and I know he will be waiting to share new tunes and tricks with us when we get there, to help us “come before his presence with singing.”
Joan Kimball and Bob Wiemken
Multi-instrumentalist Tom Zajac joined Piffaro in 1989 and performed more concerts with the group than any other member besides Joan Kimball and Robert Wiemken. He was a frequent guest with the Folger Consort, Newberry Consort, Boston Camerata, Cançonièr and the Texas Early Music Project. He toured extensively, and appeared in concert series and festivals in Hong Kong, Guam, Australia, Israel, Turkey, Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico, and throughout Europe and the United States. He can be heard on over 40 recordings of everything from medieval dances to 21st-century chamber music. With his group Ex Umbris, he performed 14th-century music at the 5th Millennium Council event in the East Room of the Clinton White House and 18th-century music for the score of the Ric Burn’s documentary on the history of New York. He played hurdy gurdy for the American Ballet Theater, bagpipe for an internationally broadcast Gatorade commercial and serpent in a PDQ Bach piece live on Prairie Home Companion. He also performed on santur, miskal and zurna with the Boston-based Turkish ensemble, Dünya. In August 2011, he was invited by the Polish government to take part in a research visit to hear and meet Polish early music ensembles. Tom taught at recorder and early music workshops throughout the US, was on the faculty of the Madison and Amherst Early Music Festivals and directed the Medieval & Renaissance week of the SFEMS workshops as well as the early music ensembles at Wellesley College.
Sadly, Tom passed away in August 2015 after a long battle with cancer.