schmitt shoots!!
In addition to teaching, College of Visual and Performing Arts professor G. Burton Harbison directs choral activities at SU.



Making Beautiful Music

Burton Harbison always knew he wanted to be a teacher. He competed in football, baseball, and swimming, so it seemed only natural that he’d become a physical education teacher. But fate and a football injury led him in a new direction. “I injured my shoulder playing football in my senior year of high school,” Harbison says. “Suddenly I had to choose a different career path. To my surprise, I chose choral music.”
      Harbison, a music professor and director of choral activities at SU, was first exposed to the choral repertoire at age 6 as a member of the boys’ choir at the Philadelphia church where his grandfather, George Burton, had at one time played the organ. Harbison’s friends in Little League gave him a lot of “flack” because he sang in a church choir, so he never intended to go into music professionally. “I didn’t get hooked on choral music until I was in high school and I heard a performance by the Oberlin College Choir,” Harbison says. “I immediately fell in love with choral work.”
      After graduating from Oberlin College in 1967 with degrees in voice performance and choral conducting, Harbison completed a master’s degree in voice at Southern Illinois University the following year. He taught at Monticello College for four years, and then taught at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, as an artist-in-residence. “Although I enjoy vocal performance, I found I was miserable without the choral work,” Harbison says. “When the choral director position opened up at the State University of New York College at Buffalo, I jumped at the chance.”
      When Artpark, a performance center in nearby Lewiston, New York, was completed, Harbison joined the conducting staff, and over the next 15 years prepared choruses for more than two dozen operas and conducted almost 300 musical theater performances. The late Christopher Keene, music director of Artpark and the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, encouraged him to apply for an opening at SU. In 1978 Harbison moved his family to Syracuse, where he joined the music faculty at the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA), and his wife, Susan, joined the violin section of the symphony. When Keene became music director of the New York City Opera a few years later, Harbison was asked to follow. “This was my opportunity to play in the big leagues,” Harbison says, “but I decided to focus all of my energy on my family, teaching, and choral activities. I also wanted time to indulge in my other two passions—fishing and woodworking.”
      In recognition of his unswerving dedication to his students, Harbison received the 2000-01 University Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award. He teaches graduate and undergraduate music courses, oversees the seven choruses of the choral program, and conducts the University Singers, the Hendricks Chapel Choir, and the Oratorio Society, which is made up of students, faculty, staff, and community members and regularly performs with the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. “The Oratorio Society requires a major time commitment, but I feel it’s worth the effort because under Burt’s direction I’ve grown tremendously as a singer in terms of vocal technique and repertoire,” says Oratorio member Soule Leiter. “I’m proud to be part of a group that brings the University and the Syracuse community closer together.”
      Carole Brzozowski, interim dean of VPA, agrees. “The work Burt does with his ensembles engenders in his students a deep sense of the human commitment, both personal and collective, that music demands,” she says. “He’s a loyal member of the faculty who brings his sense of the greater community to his life on campus every day.”
      This sense of community was never more evident than in the difficult days following the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, when Harbison was asked to pull together the combined University choruses to sing at the memorial service for the 35 SU students killed. “The memorial service was an unforgettable experience for me as a teacher and a choral conductor,” Harbison says. “I still can’t watch the videotape of the service—it’s too emotional.”
                                           —CHRISTINE YACKEL

Continued on page 2

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