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Lloyd Burritt premieres three new works at Songfire fest

West Vancouver composer writes for voice the 'ultimate instrument'

- Vancouver International Song Institute (VISI) presents Songfire Festival of Song until June 24 at various locations. For complete schedule visit

A West Vancouver composer has transformed the poetry of one of his closest friends into music, a labour of love that touched him "very closely in the heart."

"I'm very emotionally attached to this piece because it's my story," says Lloyd Burritt. "It's about the love of two human beings, two men."

Burritt's Image-Nation Cycle for tenor, French horn and piano will premiere Sunday, June 10 at 8 p.m. at West Vancouver United Church. The song is one of three new works from Burritt being performed at the Songfire Festival of Song.

The song cycle is based on poems found in Vancouver poet Robin Blaser's award-winning collection, The Holy Forest. Burritt first approached Blaser about making the poems into songs in 2008, but Blaser died of a brain tumour in 2009 before the piece was completed.

It was the end of a deep friendship that began in 1969 when the two young artists met at a party and discovered a mutual love of art and nature.

"We were both very good boys, we weren't doing the drugs that a lot of other people were because we saw a lot of our friends burnt out and wasted on them," says Burritt. "We were turned on by art. We would go to ballet, to art galleries, to concerts and we would talk about the meaning of life through nature and art."

The fact that both men were gay was also a "tremendous connector," says Burritt, but "it certainly wasn't the only reason, because we both thought people are people."

In Blaser's poems about growing up in rural Idaho, Burritt saw parallels to his own adolescence.

"Blaser's grandmother was the telegraph operator of Orchard, this little place that was nowhere, it was a whistle-stop," says Burritt. "And he spent his summers there from a young kid up to adolescence and his teens, and those are very impressionable times for people."

Burritt also spent his formative years surrounded by nature. His family had a wilderness refuge "3,500 foot up on Mt. Seymour." As young boys Burritt and his brother helped their father build a cabin.

"My most impressionable years are what happened at the cabin," says Burritt. "We'd spend every waking moment when dad didn't have to work at the family business - weekends, holidays, Christmas, Easter."

While at the cabin, the young Burritt discovered that the sounds of nature can be music, to the right ears.

"My brother and I would get sort of thawed out after a long winter, and when the spring came we'd start to hear, under the snow, tricklets of water," says Burritt. "Eventually we could get down to where the creek was -. And of course we'd want more water to play with, and we'd get rocks and start damming up the stream. Well the moment I moved a rock, I started hearing a difference in the sound in the water. So I kept playing with the sounds in the water, moving these rocks, getting these sounds."

Wanting to "have my hands in the soil," Burritt enrolled in the agriculture faculty at UBC. On a whim, he took one musical composition course with renowned Canadian composer Jean Coulthard. At the end of the class, Coulthard encouraged Burritt to trade ploughshares for piano keys.

While Burritt made brief forays into experimental electronic music in the 1960's, he now writes more traditional music.

"The piece on Sunday is accessible, people will hear rhythms they can tap their toes to, they can hear melodies that they can remember and whistle as they go out of the theatre," says Burritt.

He notes the music he writes now is based on sounds from the natural world.

"You don't hear sounds in nature . . . that are strident," says Burritt. "They are in accordance with octaves, perfect fifths, the series of whole tones."

Writing music for the voice is also something Burritt is passionate about.

"The human voice I think is the ultimate instrument, the ultimate vehicle for expression to another human being. And I love the spoken word."

Burritt is now working on his next project, an opera about the 1972 plane crash in the Andes made famous by the book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, later made into a movie of the same name. Burritt said his opera will be based on a 2006 memoir, Miracle in the Andes, written by survivor Nando Parrado.


- Roy Barnett Recital Hall June 9: Triptych for mezzo soprano & pianos; based on Three Poems by New Brunswick poet Marilyn Lerch which are based on Three Abstract Paintings by Vancouver's Liberia Marcuzzi, performed by Gayle Shay, soprano and Arlene Shrut, piano.

- West Vancouver United Church June 10: Image-Nation for tenor, piano & french horn; based on three poems by Vancouver's Robin Blaser performed by Darryl Edwards, tenor, Terence Dawson, piano and Ben Kinsman, french horn.

- Vancouver Unitarian Church June 19: Moth Poem for baritone and piano; based on five poems by Robin Blaser; performed by Tyler Duncan, baritone and his wife Erika Switzer, piano.