Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sermon: Harry Thacker Burleigh


Sermon for September 11, 2014 ~ 11:00 HE I
Feast Day of Harry Thacker Burleigh
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
For online access to the readings click here
I speak to you in the name of One God:
Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit. Amen

Today is the feast day of Harry Thacker Burleigh.
What do you know about this American singer, composer and arranger? 

We hear that he was
·        Born in Erie PA in 1866, raised by his G’pa
o   What else was happening in 1866 in US?
·        Enrolled in the National Conservatory of Music in 1892, studied voice and music theory
·        Worked for the composer Dvorak
o   who was captivated by American music – both African American and Native American. 
o   Burleigh was a copier and later influenced Dvorak’s symphony #9 with themes from spirituals.
·        Sang on staff at St. George’s Episcopal Church while in school
o   which caused some consternation until JP Morgan stood up for him and supported him.
·        Later he sang in the choir, as he composed and arranged the negro spirituals that his grandfather had taught him.
·        Some of his more notable works include
o   Swing Lo, Sweet Chariot
o   Go Down Moses
o   Balm in Gilead
o   My Lord, what a mornin’
o   Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen
o   Sometimes I feel like a motherless child

God blessed Burleigh with many gifts
·        a natural, clear voice
·        a solid memory to hold his grandfather’s songs in his heart
·        a capacity to set poetry to music
·        an integration of it all into then-new “genre” “negro spirituals” for solo and piano
These gifts that God gave Burleigh, he gave to his community and they continue to inspire us even today.

In Burleigh’s life, we can recognize some unlikely grace –
in his connection to Dvorak and mutual influencing,
in his support by JP Morgan as a definite minority in his church, and
in his success in life even as he was raised by an uneducated former slave.

Today’s Gospel speaks directly to unlikely grace in the connect of Mary’s visiting Elizabeth during their pregnancies.

“Blessed is she who believe that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken” for “the child leaped in my womb” when Elizabeth heard the sound of Mary’s greeting”

Which makes me wonder – where do we see unlikely grace in our lives?

That’s a big question.  Let’s start with this:

What did your grandmother or grandfather teach you?

To whom have you taught that?

When have you had a connection with someone like a boss or a teacher, in your formative years, for whom you later also were able to provide mutual guidance and sharing of gifts?

This is unlikely grace.  This is the way that our Lord leaps in our own belly when we experience grace – surprise!

So to honor Burleigh and his gift of music, let us sing hymn #529 together so that we can know the good news of Christ’s presence in the love that we share in this community. 


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