Nashville Scene: Zeneba Bowers – The Violinist

This is an excerpt from the Nashville Scene’s profile of Artistic Director Zeneba Bowers in The People Issue 2010, now on newsstands and at


Snack time was brutal. They always had this green ceramic plate, and our snack was little chunks of liver. Why couldn’t we even one time have cookies?”

No, it’s not a voiceover line from a screenplay adaptation of Great Expectations. It’s just one of several odd chapters from the strange life and times of Zeneba Bowers, classical musician. Those liver snacks were fed to her regularly by one of several Mennonite babysitters who watched over her when she was a young child in southeastern Pennsylvania. Still perplexed to this day, she wonders aloud, “Why did it always have to be a meat product?”

Currently the assistant principal second violin with the Nashville Symphony, Zen, as she’s known, came to Nashville eight years ago from Miami Beach, where she had been a member of the New World Symphony under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas. (She’d done previous stints with the Syracuse Symphony and the Rochester Philharmonic.) But her greatest passion is Alias, the chamber ensemble she founded which features mostly fellow Nashville Symphony players performing a bold and challenging repertoire spanning the last five centuries.

It makes perfect sense that Alias would wander away from classical music’s beaten path, considering Zen’s offbeat upbringing. How about the time when her news-junkie dad, who had no patience for children’s television, convinced her that those artists’ renderings of criminal trials you see on the network news were actually cartoons. “When I was very small … it must have been kindergarten … that’s where I learned that those court drawings they have on the news are not cartoons, and that cartoons move,” Zen says. “Because my dad would say, ‘This is the cartoon part of the news!’ because it was a drawing. And I was too stupid to know any better.”

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