Precious Nwosu | Contributor
Featured Image: Professor Karen Burke inspires the York community through gospel music. | Courtesy of Karen Burke
If there is one thing Professor Karen Burke, the York Gospel Choir director, has learned, it is to “never move away from your calling.”
Professor Burke, who grew up in Brantford, Ont., never imagined she’d end up becoming a choral director. She involved herself in music at four years old. As a child, gospel music had always been a part of her life as it had been for her parents and grandparents.
When applying for university, she thought she wanted to teach history and French; however, when looking through the programs, she discovered that music was a subject she could study.
In 2005, Professor Burke was hired at York to implement the gospel music course. She went on to develop two significant courses: History of Gospel Music, and the Gospel Choir.
Realizing the Gospel Choir was the first of its kind among post-secondary institutions in Canada, Professor Burke did not want it to be the “last of its kind.” With the intention of trying to find a way to help other struggling student-led choirs gain recognition and funding, Professor Burke established Gospel Inter-Varsity Explosion (GIVE) in 2006.
“The GIVE program gives other university choirs an opportunity to be showcased, learn music, and learn more about the craft.”
Though the program has impacted institutions such as McMaster, University of Toronto and Humber College, Professor Burke’s impact exceeds Canadian post-secondary institutions. She has been to over 10 countries to teach gospel music.
Professor Burke is actively involved in sharing gospel music to communities and schools because “one of the things left out of school curriculums are the opportunities to study any type of music other than classical music,” she says.
“This genre of music is accessible and provides an opportunity for people who have no access to formal music education and for people who are in programs that have no funding for musical instruments.”
Professor Burke says it is her hope to ensure as many people as possible adopt gospel music as a serious academic study. That is why she continues to teach and educate because universities that desire to start gospel music choirs are going to need teachers to do so.
She testifies that University of Toronto and Humber College have both gone on to start a gospel music program. In fact, one of her former student completing his doctorate in gospel music education has been hired to teach the gospel music program at the University of Toronto.
Professor Burke has impacted the York community, and her impact has been resounding. Not only does Gospel choir reach the maximum enrolment, but it is “the only large ensemble that has two concert nights because of the popularity of the audience who come to watch the concert.”
For Professor Burke, gospel music should be inspirational and uplifting; it should create community and provide hope. For these reasons, she hopes to see gospel music in public arenas so it can do all of these things that it was created to do.
The Toronto Mass Choir, alongside with York Gospel Choir will be hosting the PowerUp Gospel Music Conference February 20 to 22 at York.