Thursday, September 17, 2009

How Top-Level Organists Get Fired

Two years ago Owen Burdick, Director of Music at Trinity, Wall Street, left abruptly. It was the said that he resigned, but neither he nor the church would elaborate. Now he has broken his silence to complain about his former parish, saying that they fired him because he was an out-of-control alcoholic, but that they are not giving him sufficient credit for his role in the parish's musical history. "'It was simple,' he said recently in his first interview since his disappearance. 'I'm an alcoholic. I was out of control. I needed to leave.'" (Source)

So now after living in a Buddhist Monastery for a while he is back on the scene, monk robes and all, claiming that Trinity isn't giving him proper due for his contributions. Interestingly, his claims that he is "ignored" on the website and not given credit for some performances don't really pan out:
The Trinity Web site,, does not currently ignore Mr. Burdick. The choir-page biography lists him as one of its last two directors. A small archive of concert videos includes one of his performances — but not the version of Handel’s “Messiah” that boosted his reputation, he notes, or his many other performances that used to be there. He receives credit in the section about radio broadcasts on WQXR and on the four recordings there, in contrast to some of the actual broadcasts where his name was omitted in the recorded announcement. (source)

So how bad did he get when he was "out of control"?
Confronted with complaints by choir members that he was at times abusive and erratic, he admitted that he could be cruel. He once spat at the tenors. (They came to a later rehearsal with raincoats and umbrellas, he noted.) He declined to discuss his drinking or inappropriate behavior further.

He also said friction with the leadership had grown, especially after the arrival of Mr. Cooper [the Rector], who took over in 2004. Mr. Burdick lived with a former choir member while separated from his wife. Mr. Cooper, he said, “wanted me to be divorced, to be legal about it.”(source)

Interestingly, something similar happened with Healey Willan at St. Mary Magdalene's many years ago. He was having an affair with a member of the choir and the Rector threatened to fire him if he didn't stop. Willan refused and was fired. About a year later he wrote a letter apologizing, promising amendment of life, and begging to be hired back. He was, of course, given his bench back.

Anyway, the Trinity thing is interesting. Honestly, it sounds to me like the Trinity leadership handled the situation very well and as though Burdick's current complaints are nit-picky at best. Even though he is violating his severance agreement, he is betting that the church won't sue him over it. Seems like his ego is still smarting from the dismissal, despite what he says.


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