By James Burritt
I have been a musician my whole life. It was inevitable. My parents met as music majors at Fredonia State College. Their love of music was the backdrop of my childhood.
I learned piano from my Mom, and did my homework to the sounds of her piano students in the next room. My father loved to blast Sousa marches for all to hear, and the classical station was our constant companion. He especially loved Christmas music, which inevitably led to neighborhood caroling, Handel’s Messiah and excitement over the latest Canadian Brass Christmas disc.
I started playing piano at age 5, and was singing some of the world’s best choral music by age 9 as a boy treble at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Buffalo. I became a musician then, and I am forever grateful, because it has become my life’s work and passion.
Looking back, however, I realize that my parents’ love of music was only part of the story. It wasn’t just the music they valued; it was what music would do for their children. They knew that the musical experiences they gave us would transform us, and give us a sense of place and belonging. We would become members of a musical community that would strengthen us our entire lives.
Recently, I was reunited with a close high school friend, and several college friends. While it had been many years, our conversations were easy, as if no time had passed.
What was this thread, this extraordinary connection, that spanned distance and time? I believe it was our shared experience in the community of music.
We had shared the stage together at Orchard Park High School, traveled Western New York and the world performing with Spirit of Youth and the Geneseo Chamber Singers, and shared our sorrows and joys together through song. These were emotional bonds formed measure by measure, note by note – bonds that are still present today.
The connections I have made as a member of this musical community have been a true gift. We have lived extraordinary moments of beauty together, whether it was lifting our voices in some of the great cathedrals in Europe, reveling in a performance of the Mozart Requiem or singing tribute to the fallen at Normandy.
In sharing music together, however, we were recognizing not just artistic beauty, but the beauty in each of us, the uniqueness we each possess. We became the best parts of ourselves and celebrated that in each other.
My musical family now extends across Buffalo and the United States to Europe and beyond. I am a better person because of each of them, and no matter what life brings, I know they will be there to remind me of the joys and rewards of this musical life.
Last year, after our annual Christmas concert, an audience member expressed his gratitude, saying, “Thanks for making my Christmas!”
Hearing those words reminded me that while we, as musicians, are fed by our community, we exist to serve others; to build connections and bridges, and feed the human souls that come to hear us.
We live in a world that desperately needs healing, hope and understanding; that craves peace, and needs to be reminded of the beauty around and inside each of us; that seeks to build up, not tear down.
I am humbled to be a part of a community of musicians and artists striving to model that to the world every day. I am proud to bear that responsibility for my students, and for the extraordinary city I call home. What has been so graciously given to me, I happily return.