A Tribute to an Influential Teacher
In response to the news that my influential high school music teacher. Jerry Burdick, passed on May 8, 2023, I offer these memories in tribute.
I first met Mr. Burdick in seventh grade when he came to Tulsa’s Clinton Junior High School and sat down beside me at the electric piano I was to play as a new member of the school’s jazz band. Never having played in a rhythm section before, I listened as Mr. Burdick patiently explained to me what it was to “comp” at the piano keyboard. The seeds of creativity he planted in that initial lesson would provide me with a love of playing in jazz bands through college and would later blossom to influence my work as a composer.
Learning from a Skilled Educator...
I entered Mr. Burdick’s marching band at Daniel Webster High School with several of my friends in ninth grade. Though our freshmen class was still housed at Clinton Junior High, we’d walk over to Webster on beautiful fall or cold winter mornings to learn from this master teacher. Throughout my high school experience in his marching, concert and jazz bands, Mr. Burdick exemplified the best in education and musicianship. It was his clear conducting technique I mimicked in my teenage church music jobs and upon entering Oklahoma Baptist University as a music major.
Many Valuable Lessons...
Not only did I learn to comp at the piano, effectively play my trumpet, and conduct from Mr. Burdick, but by example he taught unparalleled organizational skills, and what it meant to be an upstanding and caring citizen in the community. As an active and long-time church musician, his life of faith and concern for all people was evident. I also learned to value “quality over quantity” from Mr. Burdick. Though our high school marching band was the smallest in the city of Tulsa, it didn’t keep us from winning a city-wide marching band competition in spite of the twelve other bands that were two and three times our size. We won because Mr. Burdick inspired us individually and collectively to give our best, and we also won because of his forward-thinking creativity. Our show wowed the judges with rotating square formations and other new marching techniques of drum and bugle corps that had not yet spread throughout high school bands. This win was especially meaningful that year as, due to low enrollment, the possible closing of our high school was threatened. After the win a billboard proudly proclaimed our success to the entire city and in my estimation helped to keep our school open. Quality over quantity had prevailed and provided a valuable lesson for my work in church ministry.
Expanding Musical Horizons...
Mr. Burdick expanded my musical horizons in many ways, contributing to my work as a Minister of Music, composer, hymn writer and teacher. In the churches of my childhood, I mostly experienced the music of American gospel hymns, but in high school concert band, Mr. Burdick exposed my mind and ears to gifted composers from around the world including England’s Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst. In high school I was so enthused by playing the band transcription of Holst’s The Planets, that I engaged in an individual study on Holst in college. This study was important to my theory and composition degree at Oklahoma Baptist University, and I was deeply honored when Mr. and Mrs. Burdick drove miles to attend my senior composition recital at OBU.
A Grateful Opportunity...
One often loses touch with high school teachers after graduation, but after graduating seminary and entering full-time music ministry, I was commissioned by my friends, the Burdick children, to write a composition for their father as a surprise to celebrate his 60th birthday and 30 years as Director of Music for Epworth United Methodist Church, Tulsa. I tried to “pull out all of the stops” for Mr. Burdick, demonstrating in the composition both the joy and skills of music-making he had instilled in me. I think of him each time I conduct a choir in singing the resulting psalm setting, Play Skillfully and Shout with Joy!
An Amazing Story...
Though I would hear about Mr. and Mrs. Burdick through the years from their children or other West Tulsans, I did eventually lose touch with their whereabouts. And my life’s work had taken me and my family to Raleigh, North Carolina. But eventually, I experienced an unbelievable reconnection…
My mother and father-in-law were exploring assisted living communities in the Charlotte, NC, area. One weekend my wife and I traveled to Charlotte to help with their search. While taking a tour of a facility, I noticed a piano, and commented that my mother-in-law was a fine pianist and would enjoy playing. The employee giving us the tour then said to me: “We also have a wonderful gentleman who comes once-a-week to play for the residents…His name is Jerry Burdick.” At that instant I let out the loudest “WHAT!!!” one can imagine! I then said: “Jerry Burdick is my beloved high school music teacher from Oklahoma!” The employee did not have to give his name, but I’m glad she did (along with his phone number)! The Burdicks were now in North Carolina! Immediately upon arriving back home I called the Burdicks to catch up and tell them this amazing story.
And there’s more… In 2018 I had the opportunity to compose We Are a People on a Journey for the 75th Anniversary of Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte. In January of that year, I would get to attend worship there for the premiere of the hymn. This provided the wonderful opportunity to see my influential high school teacher and his wife, as I spent time that weekend with Jerry and Phyllis in their beautiful home. But the best part was that the Burdicks accepted my invitation to join me at Myers Park for the premiere! This was truly a full-circle moment. As the church’s pianist improvised on my tune for the prelude that morning, I was transported back to seventh grade when Mr. Burdick taught me to improvise. As the brass quintet, timpani and pipe organ played the introduction to my hymn, I remembered how my musical horizons were expanded in Mr. Burdick’s band to be able to envision and compose such sounds. And as the choir and congregation sang, I gave gratitude for the influence and presence of the Burdicks on this special day.
I am not the only student shaped and inspired by Jerry Burdick. I join countless others in giving thanks for his life and meaningful work that continues to thrive in us all.
Phyllis Burdick, Larry E. Schultz & Jerry Burdick at Myers Park Baptist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina. January 21, 2018.
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Larry E. Schultz is a Minister of Music, composer, hymn writer and teacher.