IN MEMORIAM | A Tribute To David Burnham

By Ludwig Van on September 2, 2022

David Burnham (Photo: Maura McGroarty); Image by Gordon Johnson (CC0C/Pixabay)
David Burnham (Photo: Maura McGroarty); Image by Gordon Johnson (CC0C/Pixabay)

Special to Ludwig-Van by Lydia Adams

This week, the Canadian classical music community was saddened to hear of the passing of David Burnham, recording engineer extraordinaire/teacher/guide — a man of integrity, goodness, generosity, humility and honesty.

David was a true friend — a true gentleman with a great spirit and gentle sense of humour. People like
David are rare indeed in this world, and I am grateful for every moment we spent together making music, and for his caring friendship.

I can hardly even remember a time before David Burnham — it just seems that he was always there — and our professional relationship and friendship spanned my entire career of 35 years as conductor of the Amadeus Choir of Toronto and more than 20 years with the Elmer Iseler Singers.

Professionally, David was a master sound engineer and would, without fail, show his excellence, brilliance, intuition, intelligence and sense of humour. His smiling face was a constant as he adjusted mics, moved conductors or singers and instrumentalists, always working to improve the sound as we worked. David recorded almost every note, performance or CD performed by the Amadeus Choir during my tenure with them from the very first recordings, including Ring-a the News, a celebration of Scarborough’s Bicentennial featuring 8 Scarborough Choirs, the award-winning Songs of the Spirit and the amazing Voices of Earth of Ruth Watson Henderson, an Amadeus Choir commission. He recorded the Amadeus Choir sometimes combined with EIS and Bach Children’s Chorus performances of Elijah, Messiah, Bach B Minor Mass, St. Matthew and St John Passions, among many.

These included performances with illustrious guest conductors and soloists and CD recordings and performances in church halls, school auditoria and premier concert halls. Dave recorded the entire history of the Amadeus Choir and its development from just about the very beginning.

He patiently taught our production team of Maura McGroarty, Linda Beaupre and me how to ‘produce’ — how to edit on paper by listening to the takes, and we thoroughly tested his amazing skills! Would he make an edit, please in the middle of a run of 16th notes — would he kindly elongate that vowel — fix an errant entrance? Could he slightly lift the pitch on that very slightly low D-flat? Whatever we asked, David would come back with everything fixed and sounding wonderful.

At recording sessions and concerts, Dave would set up in the outer hall — the side chapel — the back room — the closet or basement — wherever — in order to have the distance from the performance to do the best job. There was always an excitement about working with him with his quiet approach, and his always kind but astute comments were appreciated.

His excellence was one thing, but his humanity and intelligence were off the charts. David was compassionate and kind in gently guiding us through our work with the choirs, both with Linda Beaupre with the Bach Children’s Chorus and with me with the Amadeus Choir, as we often worked together on projects. He prepared all of our grant application recordings, often working through the night to make sure we had them on time. The drop-off/pick-up spot was the window sill of his front porch!

It is because of Dave that I ask the organist for thunderous opening chords on the downbeats of ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ — the final chorus of Messiah. Dave loved the sound of it and kept asking me to do it. Of course, I succumbed, and now I love the thrill of that exhilarating moment every single time, and every time I hear them in the future, I will smile and think of Dave.

Dave also quietly encouraged me to present the complete Messiah at Easter, which we did one year. It was a treasured experience to actually hear and experience the whole work all together at that time of year. There are still many suggestions of his left unsung, but we live in hope for more moments inspired by Dave Burnham.

I have never known a more knowledgeable person able to reference seemingly every recording by any artist anywhere in the world. He could fill an evening with insights about artists and their recordings, and the subtle or not so subtle differences between them. He has recorded, through the CBC and privately, hundreds and probably thousands of Canadian and international artists — his library of discs and 78s is legendary, as is his vast knowledge.

I know that all the members of the Amadeus Choir, the Elmer Iseler Singers and the Bach Children’s Chorus who were honoured to work with David Burnham over the decades would join Linda Beaupre, Maura McGroarty and me in sending our sincere condolences to his daughter, Emily, his grandson, Spencer and to his family, colleagues and friends worldwide.

David will be so dearly missed. I hope he knows how much he was loved…

Rest in Peace, Dave.

#LUDWIGVAN

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