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Jan 13, 2008

Wall Street's Trinity Church "loses" Music Director of 17 years: Doctor Owen Burdick

Note: This article was written before new facts were released: Burdick did not resign his position. The 'resignation' was a cover up. He was ruthlessly fired by Trinity in an ugly plot hatched by Trinity Church's administration. Called in to a meeting by Trinity, Burdick's computer was disconnected, and his tenure terminated. Told to go quietly (if you want to keep your pension, don't talk to the papers... kind of thing) Burdick did what was asked of him by the Trinity Administrators, for a while at least.... New York Times reported later here
Read on:

In a brave move, Dr. Owen Burdick ended his 17 year tenure at the secure and illustrious post of Music Director of Trinity Church. His decision to use his considerable talent to teach and compose has come as a shock to all around him.

Burdick, a man not easily rattled by pressure, politics or fame, has affected the lives of many during his tenure at Trinity; not to mention his self defining interactions with President George W. Bush both in Downtown New York and at the Whitehouse which have been noted by many, if not in the press, for their self-endangering nature. On their second meeting, President Bush was quoted as saying:
"I remember you, I've been thinking about you."
...having been asked directly, during a hand shake protocol, by Burdick to
"Bring the troops home sir."
This is typical of Burdick's egoless yet bloody minded approach to all things. These personal attributes may be the key to both his success at Trinity and his recent decision to set out again, lunch packed, on his own.

As a musician, Burdick's lightest touch has brought enormous change to Trinity Church. His interpretations have brought tired and over played works new vitality, doubling audiences at Christmas time to necessitate repeat performances. Trinity has been kept on the cutting edge with it's state-of-the-art digital organ, which no musician can tell apart from the pipe organ that it replaced (filled with 911 debris). His courageous move to engage an orchestra (the REBEL Baroque Orchestra) that uses only authentic period instruments has been well received by audiences and critics alike, and is the only baroque band in the city that keeps a consistent ensemble of loyal players, without changing personnel willy-nilly as other groups all seem to do.


His choir's almost miraculous tonal purity has been cultivated by Burdick over years of meticulous recruitment and disciplined training (listen). With a budget that he could have blown on expensive soloists, he instead spent money on rehearsal, drawing the soloists from the choir, offering unique opportunities to young singers to be heard around the world from Trinity's Webcasts.

So why then is Burdick leaving Trinity? Reporters have been interrogating everybody who will pick up a phone at the famous church, to no avail.

As one of his musicians of ten years, I can offer this:
The question of 'why so sudden?' lacks the dignity deserved by such a pre-eminent tenure. It's a natural curiosity that should be overshadowed by a healthy respect for his achievements.

Burdick is a builder, and perhaps this vessel is finally all varnished up. The next question is: "Who gets to sail this beautiful craft next?"


Read previous articles about Trinity>

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Extremely well-stated.
Burdick has made a tremendous difference in his years at Trinity.
His loss will be felt for years.

John Mark Rozendaal said...

Well said indeed.
I've had only a few opportunities to play for Burdick at Trinity, and I'm already regretting his departure deeply.

Geoff Brown said...

Dr. Burdick's and the Trinity Choir's annual visits to Trinity Lime Rock, in Lakeville, CT, (www.trinitylimerock.org) never failed to leave all of us in absolute awe. The sound that choir produced under his direction was incredible and their generosity in coming and singing at our little parish church year after year was even more so.

Interestingly, if Dr. Burdick was catching grief over their digital organ, we should share some blame. After the Trinity Wall Street choir had performed a capella (due to lack of a functioning organ after 9/11) for an extended period, they explored our then-new Rodgers digital on their first visit to us, and seemed to like it. We're flattered that they subsequently took the digital route. I certainly hope this did not hasten Dr. Burdick's departure.

Anonymous said...

Did you say "egoless"?

Anonymous said...

Speaking from personal experience, there is a side to Mr. Burdick that the whole of NYC and the church-music community at large seems to know, yet none of this has been revealed in a public way. It is time to speak out against discrimination of all kinds perpetuated by this man. His departure, although details are sketchy at best, is (sadly) well-recieved by musicians everywhere. Its time someone stood up to the plate. Mr. Burdick is an arrogant, conniving and predatory person, and I along with many others, are relieved to see him gone from a major church music institution in this country. The abuse has gone on long enough and it is time the public knows the truth.

Anonymous said...

There is much more to being in a position of musical responsibility than making good music. - Anon. in NYC

Anonymous said...

Let the Chorus Resound: AMEN

Anonymous said...

this was not only a position of musical responsibility, but one of spiritual responsibility as well. that is the crux of this issue.

may trinity be blessed in this situation.

btw, didn't most of the choir leave about a year or so go? does anyone wonder why?

Anonymous said...

"Most of the choir" is rather an exaggeration--there have been several great departures over the last decade, in each case some people quitting and some being fired. While a lot of it was poorly handled, one could make a strong case that the choir came out of each period of turmoil sounding better than before.

Owen could be a very difficult person to work for; there's absolutely no denying that, and possibly no excusing it. It's also undeniable that over the course of his tenure, the choir went from being good to being great, and while that task is easier to do with money, he deserves full credit for it.

Bill & Sue Little said...

It’s a tough job being a genius but someone’s got to do it!

We were introduced to Owen at the Virgil Fox Memorial Weekend in 2005 by our other friends. We have since traveled to Trinity from Greencastle, Pa. to hear his performances. The ones we were able to attend were definitely well worth the trip.

We have found Owen Burdick to be a kind, compassionate and very warm, genuine human being. We consider him to be a wonderful friend!

The performances at Trinity reflected sheer art, talent and a degree of perfection by Dr. Burdick and his performers. There was no question on the part of the listener that second best would just not do!

God bless you, Owen! May success follow you where ever you choose to go.....

Anonymous said...

Amen! AAAAAAAAAmen!!!

Janice said...

Wow these poor singers are a delicate bunch... such anger..
Hard to believe a part time boss could cause this much distress. Let's set up a support group for them:

MILQUETOAST:

My
Insignificant
Life
Qualifies
Under
Eternal
Trauma
Of
All
Singers at
Trinity

Tom said...

That one deserves an honorable mention.
Brava...

Anonymous said...

How about:

Poor
Innocent
Singers'
Sorority

New York Toimes Subsidiary said...

Thank you for your comments so far. Some were just too defamatory to leave up, thank you regardless of the supreme rudeness of some damaged souls. (Get well soon).

Trinity is currently searching for a new director, and the Monteverdi Vespers being performed on January 29th will be conducted by Andrew Megill.

Other guest conductors have been slated for te coming Months.

Stay tuned.

The Editor

Anonymous said...

It can be no consolation to Dr Burdick that his departure has created such upset from both lobbies. His work at Trinity is famed is the USA and here, to a lesser degree, in the UK. The sadness of this sorry affair is that championing mediocrity is a safe passage - but taking a risk, grasping the nettle and creating something that is worthy of Christian worship, is almost as dangerous as questioning the status quo in a conservative society. I concede that as a church musician I too have been accused of the musical perfectionsisms that Burdick has espoused. From a creative perspective, there comes a point when it's better to walk away and do something else.. and in that, I wish Owen well. At the end of the day it will undoubtedly be the folk of Trinity who will be the poorer. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned on all sides. Last Easter's celebrations at Trinity Church cheered me no end (albeit via the internet..) as the senior clerics I deal with virtually cancelled The Triduum!! I was, along with others, thankful for the internet, Trinity liturgy, and of course, the music.. Good luck Owen and keep the faith. Trinity - think carefully next time...

Anonymous said...

Owen Burdick is a brilliant composer and director and a gentle and exceptional teacher. I had the privilege to sing under his direction in Trinity's non-professional choir (made up of church members) once a month for several years, and I never felt condescended to or undervalued. I also learned enormously.

Perhaps to his detriment, Owen couldn't be bothered to take the time to explain himself to the many people who misunderstood his great talent and generosity of spirit, so it is little surprise that he accumulated a fair number of detractors.

I wish him continued success and the fulfillment that was obviously lacking, in the end, at Trinity.

Bill and Susan Little said...

Sincere Congratulations and Best Wishes to Owen Burdick upon being named interim organist and choirmaster at the Church of the Ascension and Saint Agnes in North West Washington, D.C.

May success continue to follow you where ever you go.

Patrick D. McCoy said...

December 1, 2011 interview with Dr. J. Owen Burdick at noon http://www.blogtalkradio.com/patrickdmccoy/2011/12/01/noted-organist-scholar-and-conductor-dr-j-owen-burdick