Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 28, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — After an epiphany in a grocery store, Dr. Phillip Burgess created a diverse community choir in 2001 to reflect what he calls “the real Salisbury.”
Black, white, Hispanic, even homeless, the members of the Salisbury Ecumenical Choir are a true reflection of the city, Burgess said. In 11 years, the choir has performed throughout the county and been honored for its mission and ministry.
Burgess himself was honored Tuesday at the Mayor’s Spirit Luncheon, where Mayor Paul Woodson lauded the choir director as a humanitarian. On behalf of City Council, Woodson awarded Burgess a framed proclamation detailing his contributions to Salisbury.
During insightful and often funny remarks, Burgess said he wanted to give credit where it is due and would accept the honor on behalf of the choir.
“Without singers, conductors might as well be waving their hands in an open field,” he said.
Music is just a vehicle for the choir’s ministry and mission, Burgess said.
“Our sole purpose being to break down barriers and build bridges between all people in our community,” he said. “Building a community one note, one measure, and one song at a time.”
Best known for the annual Glory of Christmas concert at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, where Burgess is choir director, the ecumenical choir operates on a shoestring budget. Financial support comes from grants and members’ own checkbooks.
Burgess credited former Mayor Susan Kluttz, now mayor pro tem, with the choir’s success.
Kluttz asked Burgess in 2001 at a grocery store to provide choral music for visiting sister-city dignitaries from Salisbury, England.
Burgess agreed but said he later realized the mostly white choir at St. Luke’s would not reflect the real Salisbury, “people of all races, nationalities and creeds.”
With Kluttz’s encouragement, Burgess formed the ecumenical choir. Assistance has come from the Rev. Whayne Hougland, Ernestine Ingram, Kay Norman, the Rev. Bill Godair, Dr. Grant and Joanne Harrison and Thelma Banks, as well as Phyllis Partee and Rebecca Stinson, who performed Tuesday.
Burgess, who also teaches music to toddlers, encouraged people to keep a box of crayons on their desk and “reconnect with the child that still exists in you.”
Young children don’t notice if their skin is a different color, he said, and adults need to unlearn some behaviors and act more like kids.
“Grab your crayons, grab your toys, invite some friends over, sit on your porch, share your ideas, your hopes and your dreams,” he said. “Do not be afraid to color outside the lines or do things in ways that have never been done.
“Learn that it is OK to unlearn.”
The Covenant Community Connection, part of the Human Relations Council, sponsors the Mayor’s Spirit Luncheon.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.