Singing in the family

Choir School parent Rob Burlingon is the Director of Music at Cannon School in Concord, N.C., but that’s not where he thought he’d end up.

Rob came to choral music as a young boy through his church outside New York City, where his father was a priest. On a weekend trip into the city, his parents dropped by St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue for a service, happening upon the St. Thomas Choir School, the only church affiliated boarding choir school in the country. Thinking it might be a good opportunity, he auditioned and then joined the 40 or so young boys who, through eighth grade, live, study, and sing at St. Thomas.

Rob Burlington joined St. Thomas as a young boy and sang under the direction of Gerre Hancock through eighth grade.

Under the direction of renowned conductor Gerre Hancock, Rob learned the difficult repertoire required for a choir that leads services six days a week and rehearses daily, in addition to the typical academic requirements of a primary education. It was an experience that allowed him to pursue his interests, musical or otherwise.

“I would have preferred to go play soccer. I was probably the best athlete at the school. While I was very good at music, I was always interested in other things, too,” Rob said.

Still, Rob knows the benefits of that musical upbringing, even if it was hard to see at the time. That varied set of interests blossomed in independent schools after St. Thomas, and at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

After graduating, and not necessarily looking to be a music educator, but knowing that independent schools would offer him an opportunity to explore all of his interests, he found his way to Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg. 

“I’m highly interested in music and good at what I do, but there’s always been something else. And the independent school world has always helped me be able to do other things.”

“I think they’ll look back on it as a really good experience that gave them so many opportunities.”

At that first job he taught music, coached soccer, directed residential life, and learned educational administration; independent school teachers wear many hats. As he continued his career, his desire to become better at the craft of choral conducting led him to Emory University in Atlanta for a masters degree, and eventually to Charlotte, where his family would find The Choir School.

Rob says his children continuing to sing was a priority for the family, and the reason for MasterSingers Esther, a sophomore, and Robert, a senior, to join The Choir School was all about the quality of the music education.

“It’s such a high level. It’s so rigorous. There’s no other reason to do it. Kids who go here are extremely dedicated. You are invested in something that’s larger than yourself and it becomes important to you.”

Rob knows the music, and the experiences they’ve had and the friendships they’ve made, will become ingrained in his kids. Still at times, he’s found it challenging to explain the value of that experience to them.

“Kids are kids. It’s easier to explain the value of The Choir School after it’s happened. They get to do cool things. And at the same time, maybe without knowing it, they’re getting this amazing education through music that helps, not just with music, but will help them with math, foreign language, and being a thinker.

“They’re learning how to be in a relationship with other people. How to meet people that are different from them. They’re getting so much more about being a human and I think they’ll look back on it as a really good experience that gave them so many opportunities.”

Just as singing did for him.

Story by Geoff Yost ’08

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