New teacher takes over high school vocal department after longtime teacher retires

Published 6:52 pm Friday, August 18, 2023

Howard Schultz to Laxman Narasimhan. Steve Jobs to Tim Cook. Some roles can seem daunting to fill after a business experiences sustained, profound success under former leadership.

Erik Zinter is facing a similar situation, as he takes over the vocal music program at Albert Lea High School following the retirement of longtime leader Diane Heaney.

“It’s been a program that I’ve been familiar with for years, ever since I was in high school,” he said. “It was a known commodity.”

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Zinter comes from a family of musicians, with his father, Al, serving at Owatonna High School when he was a student.

“I credit him with my first experiences in choir,” he said.

Growing up with a conductor, Zinter was always involved in choir. He also enjoyed accounting.

But it wasn’t until he started at Concordia College in Moorhead that he seriously considered a career after his rehearsal in choir.

“I was just amazed at how much we could accomplish and the joy of singing with a group of that caliber,” he said.

The experience led him to change his major from accounting, noting the decision was more of a need than a choice.

Zinter heard about the opening after a friend — who works at the high school — notified him after Heaney announced her retirement. He interviewed last spring.

“Albert Lea has had a strong program for years,” He said. “Diane built a strong program here. I was familiar with it. I used to teach in Faribault, so for the Big 9 Festival I am familiar with the work that Albert Lea has done. The choir’s always sounded great.”

His goals are to inspire students by finding music they could relate to while challenging them. And above all, he wants students to be inspired to be better people and involved in and expressive with music.

“It’s something they can enjoy for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Zinter, originally from Owatonna, most recently comes from Springfield, Ohio, where he taught at Wittenberg University for eight years.

“Loved my time there,” he said.

He has also taught community choirs and the high school level, with eight of them in Faribault.

“I teach with a lot of energy,” he said. “I have fast-paced rehearsal, I like to tell stories — I tell stories all the time.”

He described his teaching as “fun,” and he’ll take time to get to know his students.

“I think it’s important that we build community, that’s the goal of story-telling,” he said. “That’s the goal of asking questions of the students, to build a repertoire, to build a community within the ensemble so that we can trust one another.”

Zinter also wants to continue the work his predecessor developed while challenging students and making Albert Lea proud of the music that comes out of the high school.

Zinter will teach concert, varsity and freshmen choirs. Besides that, he’ll work with Albert Lea High School Chorale, the Caroliers and — if students are still interested — the Show Choir.

“I don’t plan on changing anything that had been set,” he said, though he said it was possible he could add programs, though he wanted student input before doing anything.

By his estimation, there are roughly 150 students between the three choirs.

“I’ve always kind of kept my ear open for possible positions to get back to Minnesota, which is where we have a lot of family,” he said, further describing Minnesota as having a culture of singing that was unique.

Zinter and his wife, Rachel, have three children: Ella, Canaan and Eli.

In his free time, he enjoys playing tennis and cooking.

“If I wasn’t a teacher, I would want to be a chef,” he said, noting the similarities between music and cooking.

He also enjoys being outside.

He thanked the district for their support during his transition, as well as Heaney for leaving the program the way it was.