Jamie Howison talks music and life with Robert Burton
Idon’t know that I’ll ever forget visiting with Rob Burton back in the autumn of 2010, shortly after the bicycle accident that threatened to end his career as a musician and music educator. As described in the liner notes to his 2012 solo project Left Handed Compliment, “On September 2nd 2010 Robert Burton fell off his bike. Not exactly front page news but when he landed, he shattered and dislocated his right elbow and lost feeling in most of his right hand.” A serious enough injury for anyone, but for a professional musician whose life vocation was all about using his hands, this was a deep crisis indeed.
Robert was strangely circumspect about the whole experience, for while he wondered what it might mean for his professional life, he still held this sense that life itself would continue… and for this he was clearly grateful. Still, questions of what shape his life might take were pressing, though he seemed prepared to wait out the results and just see where things might land.
Again from those liner notes: “He emerged from surgery with a new purpose and personal vision for his music, as well as 23 screws, 3 plates and 40 staples.” Yet prior to that surgery, as he lay on the ground after the fall, he realized that “there was very little evidence of his 30+ years of non-stop professional musical career,” and so he had vowed, “If I ever get out of this I am making a CD every year.”
- To listen to a sample of “A Single Prayer” from Left Handed Compliment, click the arrow:
In response to that vow, Rob has offered up three CDs to date: Left Handed Christmas (2011), the aforementioned Left Handed Compliment, and When Somebody Loves You, recorded with his wife Adelle and released in 2013.
A working musician from the age of 20, Robert moved to Winnipeg from Oakville, Ontario in 2000, and launched River Heights Music as a home-based music school. Even before his injury he and Adelle had been talking about taking the school up another level, yet it was in the year following the accident that the big move was made. River Heights Music now operates out of a very fine commercial space, employs 10 teachers, and offers music instruction to over 125 students. He plays around the city on a regular basis, both as a solo artist and as leader of various ensembles, with Adelle at the microphone whenever a vocalist is needed.
Without hesitation, Robert lists the legendary jazz guitarist Pat Metheny as his primary musical influence, however after that his choices are intriguing. As a drummer, Rob loves the work of Neil Peart of the iconic Canadian rock band Rush, but he also includes Todd Rundgren and Stevie Wonder as influences, largely because they are both, “adventurous and talented multi-instrumentalists.” Paul McCartney also ranks highly, specifically for his Beatles’ era work.
Robert grew up in the Anglican Church, which makes him something of an exception to the rule around saint benedict’s table. His home church was Trinity Church in Streetsville, Ontario, in the days when Streetsville was still a small town in its own right, rather than simply an extension of Mississauga. Across the front of the church was stencilled the sentence “This is none other than the House of God,” which Robert says made quite an impression on his younger self; the real message seeming to be “this is the place to be.” And in those formative years, that’s exactly what the church was.
Apparently the church is still the “place to be” for Robert, and we’re grateful. It is good to have him sit in with one or another of our music ensembles, but even on the weeks when he’s not playing it is always good to have him with us.
For samples of Rob’s music, and to get even more information on his work as a professional musician and educator, simply click here.