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Former Teacher Jack Burnam Retires After 27 Years as Coroallegro’s Director

Tower Hill Choral Director Zerrin Martin will be featured in his final concert.
After 27 Years, Coroallegro’s Director is Retiring But Now Will Focus on Composition

Republished with permission from The News Journal
By Ken Mammarella

"In the Beginning,” by happenstance, is the theme of the final CoroAllegro concert for Jack Warren Burnam, who has been music director for the Delaware choral group for 27 of its 28 years.

The concert – 8 p.m. April 5 at St. Joseph on the Brandywine in Greenville – features works by Aaron Copland and Gabriel Jackson that were inspired by the Biblical books of Genesis and John, both of which begin with “in the beginning.” Copland’s “In the Beginning” features mezzo soprano Zerrin Martin. Jackson’s “In the Beginning Was the Word” features organist Thomas Sheehan. Works by Victoria, Howells, Duruflé and Clausen also will be included.

“The theme of the concert echoes the changes taking place within the organization as we explore ideas of creation, continuity and transformation,” Wynne B. Hewitt, group president, wrote in an email.

Burnam, a Milltown resident, says he wants to spend more time with his family, such as playing with his four grandchildren and cooking with his wife, Jeannette.

He is changing the focus of a career in music that began when he got out of the Army in 1971 and became organist and choir director at Immanuel Baptist in Wilmington, followed by stints as organist and music director at Temple Beth Emeth in North Wilmington, choir director at Immanuel Episcopal in Old New Castle (where CoroAllegro rehearses) and part-time music teacher at Tower Hill.

“I’ve been very fortunate to make a living at music by doing more than one thing at a time,” he says. “I’ve always had two substantial jobs.”

Two years ago he began accompanying the All-State Chorus and will continue doing that and serving Immanuel Episcopal. He now hopes to have more time to compose (primarily choral music for church choirs) and accompany groups, with time for the practice that he wants to have.

CoroAllegro’s repertoire has included Renaissance motets and madrigals, baroque cantatas, chamber works from the classical and romantic periods and secular and sacred 20th- and 21st-century works, sung in more than a dozen languages, including Old Church Slavonic.

The group now numbers two dozen volunteers, and every three years it expands to about 90 singers for concerts called “CoroAllegro and Friends,” which also feature an orchestra.

Ronnie Cimprich, a member since the beginning, recalled in an email how it started. More than 27 years ago, members of the then Delaware Chamber choir, met in Don and Trish Reed’s living room to interview Burnam for the job of music director.

“That interview was turned on its head when Jack distributed music to the singers, and the interviewers became the interviewees – we knew then that we had found a perfect fit for our ensemble,” she recalls.

Since then, the singers and Delaware audiences have been treated to a choral repertoire seldom heard in the state, including works commissioned by internationally known composers such as Alice Parker and Delaware composers David Schelat and David Kelley.

Burnam himself has composed for the group, and Delawarean David Lockart presented his composition for the ensemble to premiere this year.

“He came to rehearsals always impeccably prepared and organized, and has earned the respect of both the instrumentalists and singers who have had the opportunity to perform under his direction. For me personally, it has been an exhilarating, life-changing choral ride,” Cimprich says.

When asked to single out one highlight, Burnam said it was a performance of Brahms’ “Requiem” (a “personal favorite”) that sold out a dozen years ago – and the group’s only sellout that he can recall.

“Jack will leave us with a strong foundation and a sense of commitment, both to the group and to choral music in general,” Hewitt says in an email. “Jack’s extensive knowledge of choral repertoire means that we have been able to devote much of our time to performing works that are not often heard.”

Burnam and CoroAllegro also perform at schools, retirement homes and hospitals.

“This sense of our uniqueness has been given to us by Jack and, though we are saddened to lose him, has been instilled in the group and will motivate us to continue to carry on his legacy,” Hew itt says.

Jeffrey Manns, the associate director who is in his second year with the group, is moving up as interim music director. He said his goal is to “maintain and increase the group’s visibility and artistic quality.”

Manns says he has developed concepts for its next concerts, at Christmas and next spring.