"Music runs through my life,” says Douglas Burden, bass trombonist of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa and faculty member at the University of Ottawa. “I’ve heard music since I was in the womb and, later, the musically driven services of Salvation Army churches: Singing, of course, the clapping of hands, worship teams. Music, music, music.
“And with that is the textural and lyrical aspect of the communication of the gospel. Using music as that communicating instrument.”
The Right Stuff
Douglas’ parents, Henry and Enid, were Salvation Army pastors, and the family travelled to various postings in southern Ontario as he grew up.
“But the one thread that went through all of their ministry is that they were very musical,” recalls Douglas. “My father was an instrumentalist and a singer, my mother a lovely singer and pianist. They were active in worship teams and songsters [choirs], either as members or in a leading capacity.”
As a youngster, then, Douglas was naturally drawn to music, but he was an extremely shy young boy.
“Liking music and performing music are two different things,” he explains. “It’s like writing a speech versus standing up in front of 2,000 people and actually delivering that speech. It goes from a cerebral to a performance element, and that took a while to evolve.”
“I happened to be at the right place at the right time, with the right instrument.” DOUGLAS BURDEN
However, one of the beauties of The Salvation Army, and certainly in Douglas’ years growing up, was the opportunity and the platform to learn how to perform—morning and evening church services, outdoor worship services, Salvation Army band performances, concerts.
“Some people saw my eight-year-old potential,” says Douglas. “I was put up as a soloist.
“I was absolutely scared stiff,” he smiles. “But I happened to be in the right place at the right time, with the right instrument.”
An Important Call
Douglas started out playing the cornet.
Why the cornet?
“I was a very small young boy at that time and holding the cornet was something I was able to do well.”
Fast forward seven years, and Douglas was a teenager living in London, Ont.
“A very famous Salvation Army bandmaster by the name of Bram Gregson became aware of me and, as I reached the age of 15, the senior band was filled with great cornet players, but they only had two trombone players.”
Bram told the boy, “You’re going to play trombone now. Here’s the trombone.”
“And that was it!” laughs Douglas now.
With the help of his high school music teacher, he made the transition and became proficient, so much so that he attracted the attention of famed Salvation Army bandmaster Norman Bearcroft, who was re-establishing the Army’s Canadian Staff Band.
“I was a young bandsman at Hamilton Temple in Ontario at the time, and Norman heard me playing in a rehearsal.
“The phone call asking permission for me to join the band went to my father, not to me,” Douglas laughs. “Which, in hindsight, was the right way to do it where a 15-year-old was concerned!”
On to Ottawa
That opened the door to other opportunities, including a scholarship at the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.
Even with the scholarship, there was no way Douglas’ parents could have afforded the room and board and transportation.
The Salvation Army in Rochester generously allowed Douglas to stay with them. In lieu of rent, Douglas worked 10 hours a week at the community centre.
As a first-year university student, he was asked to play a concert with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Soon, every time they needed a bass trombone, they requested Douglas, and he parlayed that into a full-time position.
From the Ear to the Heart
“When you’re on stage playing with a wonderful orchestra and 2,000 people give you a standing ovation, it’s easy to let that go to your head,” says Douglas.
His Christian faith and Salvation Army roots help keep him humble.
“And not grow too big of a head!
“Even in my earliest years as a performing professional, that helped me stay grounded,” Douglas continues. “I wasn’t looking at the audience, I wasn’t looking at the lights, I was doing my job. I was committed as a Christian to a talent that had been given to me, and it was mine to develop and to bless others through.”
Douglas likes to recall an old saying: “You can leave The Salvation Army, but The Salvation Army never leaves you.”
“The Salvation Army has a rich heritage of developing musicians, composers and music, and facilitating the printing, production and distribution of that music.”
“I was committed as a Christian to a talent that had been given to me, and it was mine to develop and to bless others through.” DOUGLAS BURDEN
At the church he attends, the music pastor asked Douglas to select some appropriate Army tunes for their services.
“What I chose spoke to many people,” he recalls. “Parishioners came up to me afterward to tell me how moved they were. The Salvation Army music-making element of linking the lyrics and the words to the melody wasn’t just tickling the ear; it was going through the ear to the mind to the heart.”
Paying It Forward
This summer, Douglas plans to retire from the National Arts Council Orchestra.
“I’m in my final season,” he smiles.
Douglas would have retired earlier had it not been for the pandemic. While the National Arts Centre Orchestra has continued to perform during COVID-19 on a digital basis, through livestreaming and Masterclasses, something was missing for Douglas.
“I want to play in front of a live audience again rather than just kind of slink away, head down, tail tucked between my legs.”
Douglas has taken advice from colleagues who have retired ahead of him and he’s worked hard to stay physically and mentally fit, as well as watch his diet.
And he has a lot to look forward to.
“I have a wonderful wife, but the number of hours that a professional musician has to practise is incredible, and Wendy’s been a ‘practise widow’ for too long. It’ll be great to spend more time with her.”
Douglas is also looking forward to spending time with his five grandchildren.
“I want to invest in their future—bringing them to museums and hockey games, sharing experiences and such—the way my Salvation Army family, friends and mentors invested in my own future back when I myself was young.”
Main Photo: Fred Cattroll
This story is from: