The violin teachers who get all the glory are those at top conservatories blessed with gifted students and prodigies. But the unsung heroes of the trade are those who work with beginners, the teachers who hear more clunkers than cadenzas but can ignite a lifelong love for music — and sometimes inspire greatness.

There was never anyone better at this than Ara Zerounian, who died Monday at age 86 at home in Ridgefield Conn., where he had relocated from Troy in May. Mr. Zerounian had a Midas touch with young string players, leaving a deep impression not only on music in Detroit but the broad sweep of classical music in America. A striking number of his former students became world-class musicians.

Mr. Zerounian, who taught for decades in the Detroit Public Schools, filled his afternoons and Saturdays with private teaching, imparting unimpeachable technical fundamentals and nurturing a passion for the joy of music. He wrapped it all together with a kindly uncle’s repertoire of hugs, jokes and gold-star stickers.

“He was so patient and had such love for his students,” said violinist Ida Kavafian, his stepdaughter. “Between the patience, the solid technical command and his love for kids and music, he gave students an incredible foundation.”

Sisters Ida and Ani Kavafian (also a violinist) enjoy major careers as chamber musicians, soloists and teachers. But they are far from Mr. Zerounian’s only star pupils. The honor roll also includes the incomparable violist Kim Kashkashian, former Minnesota Orchestra concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis (who now teaches at Indiana University); Cleveland Orchestra principal violist Robert Vernon; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra principal violist Michael Ouzounian and Utah Symphony concertmaster Ralph Matson.

Ida Kavafian said that Mr. Zerounian had been in declining health for the past year and died after a short illness. (Mr. Zerounian married the Kavafian sisters’ mother, Peruz, in the late 1960s.)

Born in Detroit, Mr. Zerounian began playing violin as a child and later switched to the viola. He was inspired to a career in music at Cass Tech by the school’s legendary orchestra conductor Michael Bistritzky. After serving in in the Army in World War II, Mr. Zerounian attended Northwestern University on the GI Bill and earned a master’s degree in music at the Eastman Conservatory.

He returned home to Detroit to start teaching in the public schools in 1952 at an annual salary of $2,900.

“It’s a special responsibility and a privilege to be in a position to introduce children to music,” Mr. Zerounian told the Free Press in 2001. “They’re so eager and Air Max 95 It’s inspiring to see their reaction when they’re able to do something. When a conductor leads a Mozart symphony, that’s very gratifying, but I’m happy if they play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ in tune.”

Mr. Zerounian also taught summers at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. After retiring from the public schools, he served as principal violist of the Warren Symphony from 1976-92 and the Pontiac-Oakland Symphony from 1979-1992. His wife, a violinist who died in 1996, was often concertmaster of these ensembles.

Mr. Zerounian is survived by his stepdaughters; a brother, and a grandson. Services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday, preceded by visitation at 10 a.m., at the Armenian Congregational Church, 26210 W. 12 Mile, Southfield. Visitation also from 6-8:30 p.m. Monday at Edward Korkoian Funeral Home, 836 North Main St., Royal Oak.

Contact Mark Stryker: 313-222-6459 or

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