May 2019, 2019
Theatre people tend to be multi-taskers at the best of times. They double as actors and directors, set designers and ticket-sellers. Whatever it takes for the show to go on, right?
But even with that tradition to uphold, Heather Burns must have set a new benchmark for versatility in recent weeks.
One minute, she was serving as music director for a production of West Side Story, featuring the orchestral stylings of Leonard Bernstein. The next, she was filling the same role for the Victoria Operatic Society’s offering of Shrek The Musical, featuring the Monkees’ hit I’m a Believer.
Small wonder then that she was looking forward to spending a few minutes in her garden this week — two days after wrapping West Side Story with Victoria’s Canadian College of Performing Arts and four days before launching Shrek at the McPherson Playhouse.
“You probably couldn’t ask for two more diversely different pieces,” she said in an interview. “I found I had to switch gears in my head pretty quickly, moving from one to the other.
“I was in the pit last week with a beautiful orchestral take on West Side Story which is Bernstein at his finest, and then to slide into the rock band and the Monkees and I’m A Believer and all that goes with that — it’s fun.”
It helped that Burns was able to “tag-team” the Shrek production with her co-music director, Dave Flello. Even so, she wondered at one point whether she wanted to take on back-to-back musicals and seven-day work weeks.
Ultimately, she decided to go ahead because she had worked on Shrek in the past and loved it.
“The music is fantastic,” she said. “As a music director, I think you gravitate towards the music and the songs early in the process. It didn’t really grab me to begin with, but then, when I started working on it, I just realized how catchy, but also really beautiful, a lot of the music is.
“It’s one of those unexpected scores,” she said of the songs by composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire. “It’s really well-written, really engaging and very fun because it’s done more with a pop-rock band approach, rather than an orchestral approach.”
The award-winning musical is based on the animated film Shrek, which, in turn, was based on the book Shrek! by William Steig.
Burns attributes the story’s enduring appeal, in part, to its ability to reach audiences of all ages. Kids are drawn to the saga of an ogre who embarks on a quest to return a band of fairy-tale creatures to their homes and get his swamp back. The adults in the audience enjoy the references to songs and music from the past.
“There’s so many musical, what I call ‘quotes’ that refer back to other pieces of music that are just iconically known to adults,” she said.
The story itself holds universal appeal.
“It’s about acceptance and it’s about understanding that beauty is not necessarily what sometimes it’s categorized or classified as in modern pop culture,” Burns said. “Those kind of themes reach deep into the heart of people, and even more so today than maybe in prior times.”
The Victoria Operatic Society’s production features Morgan McLeod as Shrek, Heidi Fox Lange as Fiona and Dan Comeau as Donkey.
“The three of them together have made a really solid core of leads,” Burns said. “A musical really relies on your leads to be strong, and not just talented, but strong as leaders. So they’ve been able to do that, and I think it’s set a really great tone.”
Burns said audiences can expect an “ambitious” production. “The costumes are just out of this world. I think there’s certainly going to be an appeal in terms of the bigness of musical theatre for this performance, which is wonderful.”
As for Burns, she admits she’ll be ready for a break after directing back-to-back productions.
“I feel like I’ve had my full share of all things musical theatre this spring, and I think I might go hit some waves or some beaches or something for the summer,” she said, laughing.
“But it’s been great. One of the beautiful things about the genre is the diversity of it and to be able to work from one extreme to the other.
“I don’t take that for granted. It’s a pretty beautiful way to make a living.”
Dec 17, 2009
“It’s a pretty safe bet if Victoria’s Heather Burns is involved, the show will go on…
Burns has a reputation as a super trouper, at least in theatre circles. It’s mostly connected to a single incident. Burns kept playing piano for My Fair Lady in 2006, even after breaking her arm.
It happened with three weeks left on the 104-performance run at Chemainus Theatre Festival. Burns, who was staying in Chemainus, went for a jog. She tripped on a stump, fracturing two bones in her right arm. The doctor bound her in a splint rather than a cast, thus allowing her to move her fingers a little.
“It was a challenge, I had to continue playing the show with one hand,” Burns said. “I played the odd note with my right hand. I developed a really good left-hand technique…” CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY
Feb 19, 2009
“One of Victoria’s great unsung talents is the pianist Heather Burns. I’ve seen her perform many productions; she’s always a highlight.”
May 7, 2009
Ah the beloved American musical…somehow it works – especially in this stellar production by the Victoria Operatic Society, which is by far and away the best show I’ve seen them do in years. … Excellent production work help bring these Follies to life – notably David Hardwick’s simply stunning range of costumes, John Britt’s..set, Adam Wilkinson’s gala lighting and music director Heather Burns’ strong pit orchestra and chorus. … Will Rogers Follies is sure to be one of the most memorable musical theatre productions of recent years.
…flawless. This pretty much describes the VOS’s dazzling production of “The Will Rogers Follies”…. As musical revues go, it doesn’t get any better than this…. this intoxicating spectacle, as spit-polished as the cowboy humourist’s boots is near Broadway calibre…. Chris Newstead…is enormously endearing as Will, with a singing voice as impressive as his talent with a lasso. Angela Ireland is equally as impressive….Paul Miles is also a noteworthy asset as Will’s cantankerous dad Clem…. The orchestra and music elements under the direction of Heather Burns is top notch.”
I didn’t tell anyone it was work-related. I just put the CD in the machine and pressed play. Within minutes my weekend guests wanted to know what they were listening to and where they could buy it.
Road Back Home is pianist, Heather Burns’ second recording. A cohesive blend of English carols, jigs, Irish folk music and jazz, the CD is ideal dinner relaxing music. Burns mixed original compositions with her own arrangements of traditional music to create a recording featuring jazz harmonies, Celtic melodies and African percussion and rhythm.
Although Burns currently resides in Victoria, she grew up in the Valley. While many people knew her father, former Courtenay fire chief Lawrence Burns and her late grandfather Cyril, Burns says she owes her affinity for music to her mother Margaret. “I grew up listening to the her play the piano and that became a part of me,” says Burns, who began he own work at the keyboard at age 4.
The CD includes three original compositions, including the title cut, “Road Back Home,” a simple arrangement of piano, bass and drums. For, despite time spent making music in places as far away as Los Angeles and Nashville, Burns considers herself a “true Canadian and west coaster.”
“I feel very fortunate that I can come home in less than 3 hours,” she says. “The idea for the CD came out of the many journeys I made to the Comox Valley last spring. Those trips gave me a fresh appreciation of home.”
Burns’ favourite cuts on the CD are “McKerracher Sunset” and “Carrick Fergus”. When a friend and fellow musician told me to “go compose a jig” she replied she didn’t have time. But then after a run, she sat on a friend’s deck overlooking Victoria’s Inner Harbour. “McKerracher Sunset” was born.
“Carrick Fergus” was almost deleted from the production list, but Burns loved the colours embedded in the music. “We started playing around with creative ways to present the sound—adding percussion, playing guitar with a bow for example, —and it was like unlocking a box of treasures,” she recalls.
As a freelance musician, Burns works as a Music Director, accompanist, teacher, tour director/producer and performer. She’s worked with Chemainus Theatre, the Victoria Operatic Society and Kaleidoscope Theatre in productions such “My Fair Lady”, “Forever Plaid”& “Evita”.
She’s played music in the most of Europe and the USA, and seen parts of South America and the Caribbean. “I spent 2 years touring by bus once,” she says. “It was fun, but spending more time at home, close to friends and family is perfect in that I can be involved in lots of different styles and of music.”
When it came time to record Road Back Home, Burns and producer Joby Baker toured the Victoria area looking for a piano to rent for the studio. “I tested 40 pianos,” Burns says. “Towards the end, we found a beat-up one with the front panel off. I played it and we knew, ‘this is it’”. We found out later that Sarah McLachlin had used it when she played in Victoria and it had been damaged when the crew moved it. I liked it so much, I ended up buying it.
Road Back Home is $20 and is available in Courtenay at Jacob’s Well or on through iTunes, CD Baby, or www.heatherburns.ca.
Burns will perform a CD release concert at the Old Church Theatre June 13, 2009 with her band.
Media Release – November 3, 2008
“Road Back Home,” the second CD by pianist Heather Burns of Victoria, has just been released. The album features some of Vancouver Island’s finest musicians and diverse music inspired by women working in coffee fields in Tanzania.
“For my second CD, I wanted to explore more traditional music from various origins but give it a voice that hopefully would reflect the musical influences that have shaped my musical style,” says Burns.
Burns took original compositions and mixed them with her own arrangements of traditional music including English carols, Cape Breton jigs and airs, and Irish folk music to create an album featuring jazz harmonies, African percussion and rhythm and lyrical Celtic melodies.
“Road Back Home” was produced by Joby Baker of Victoria – a partnership that was the perfect fit for Burns.
“Joby’s creativity and ability to bring the music to life took this project to places that far exceeded what I initially hoped or imagined,” she says.
Together, Burns and Baker (on percussion, bass and guitar) assembled some of Vancouver Island’s finest musicians: Joey Smith (bass), Kelby MacNayr (drums), Paul O’Brien (bazouki), Chris Newstead (whistles), Chris Bertin and Dean Samuel (percussion), and Adrian Dolan (accordion).
Victoria-based Level Ground Trading (www.levelground.com) partnered with Burns in this project. The CD jacket features the Tanzanian Hope project, one of their Direct Fair Trade partnerships in Africa. Burns credits the voices of these women working in the coffee fields in Tanzania with shaping much of the direction of this recording.
“It’s important to me that my music somehow draws attention to something outside of itself,” says Burns.
What people are saying about “Road Back Home”…
· “powerful imagery for the listener”
· “a stunning and ever so thoughtful communication of rich tone and colour”
· “each track tells a story unto itself….”
To order your CD, visit www.heatherburns.ca
June 3, 2006
It’s worth the trip to see Chemainus Theatre Festival’s pocket-sized My Fair Lady. Mounting a splashy musical on a small stage is no easy task, yet this production works well, thanks to astute direction and a spirited cast…Music director Heather Burns is an excellent pianist who holds everything together…Among the great musicals, My Fair Lady casts a long shadow. In this version, director Jeremy Tow has wisely chosen a distinct interpretation, while remaining true to the show’s spirit. The tone is set from the beginning…When the music (arranged by Muscial Director, Burns) starts, the actors play penny-whistles, accordions, pianos, trombones, cellos, mandolins, violins and percussion. This not only works well, it provides a jolly, Brechtian atmosphere that makes the small theatre an asset rather than a liability. It’s like watching a Broadway musical in some cozy European nightspot. The show is replete with clever flourishes…
Friday, November 18, 2005
It was a full house for the Sting of Pearls performance at the Sid Williams Theatre on Nov. 12 – and a very happy one too.
Although there were some younger faes in the audience Saturday night, I think it’s a safe bet to say that many present had a strong connetion to the war years. Even without the song sheets, most people seemed to know all the words for the sing a-long and, if you measure success in audience smile power, then the String of Pearls was a definite 10.
String of Pearls is a Victoria based troupe that recalls time gone by while honouring all those who have participated in the war effort. The mainstay of the show is the three vocalists Susan Wilkey, Megan Preece and Angela Ireland Ford. These women are incredibly dynamic!…
…The backup for these pearls of the stage was so seamless that it was almost unnoticeable. But without Heather Burns (former fire chief Lawerence Burn’s daughter) on keyboard, Don Leppard on percussion, Stu Salmond on bass and comic antics by manager Neil Townsend, the show would not have had nearly as strong an impact.
…This was a wonderful performance to have on Rememberance Day weekend. I’m sure it brought back a lot of memories for some and know it provided a good time for all…
Friday, June 17, 2005
Child’s Play, a debut CD by Heather Burns, is a pleasant mix of the jazz, Celtic and classical music that has influenced her since she first started playing piano at age four.
Although she lives in Victoria, Burns’ roots are in the Comox Valley. She attended Lake Trail and Vanier schools and Courtenay Youth Music Centre and many people know her father, former fire chief, Lawrence Burns.
She dedicated Child’s Play to her grandfather Cyril Burns, who recently clebrated his 102’nd birthday.
“The Comox Valley is home”, Burns said in a recent telephone interview,”I try to get back whenver I can”.
Child’s Play begins with a few solitary piano notes then segues into 14 instrumental arrangements guaranteed to soothe and relax. Playing with Burns are Paul O’Brien (guitar, bazouki), Chris Newstead (Celtic whistle), Larry Skaggs (cello), Don Leppard (drums) and Anita Bonkowski (bass). The sound is easy listening and contemplative.
The title grew out of a comment someone made to Burns after a performance.
“You Make that look like child’s play”, the person said referring to the seemingly effortless presentation. But despite its title, Burns’ CD is anything but child’s play. It is the work of an accomplished sensitive musician who obviously loves what she’s doing.
“The CD is a compilation of many of my favorite songs”, said Burns who arranged many of the compositions herself.
“Also, I’m performing with friends I really enjoy working with. It’s like this project was meant to be.”
Burns hadn’t planned on being a professional musician. “I was going to be a teacher”, she said, “then I got a summer job as accompanist for a choir touring in Europe, that changed everything”.
She went on to tudy in Los Angeles nd the Banff Centre for Performing Arts and received her MA in Music from Western Washington University.
Burns has performed in Europe, the United States and Canada and also works with many theatrical productions. This summer she is musical director for The Wizard of Oz at the Chemainus Theatre. In early June she was at the Filberg Centre with String of Pearls at the annual jazz festival.
Child’s Play retails for $14.98 and is available at numerous stores on Vancouver Island, including Jacob’s Well on Fifth Street in Courtenay. The CD may also be purchased through Burns’ Website www.heatherburns.ca.