2016-12-01 / Faith Community

Twins Echo Choral Music at St. John’s Church

By James Merolla


Thomas and Joseph Burdick graduated from the prestigious St. Thomas Choir School in New York City, and will sing at a Christmas concert at St. John's on Dec. 15. Their sister, Abigail, is a dancer versed in ballet, tap, and improvisation. Thomas and Joseph Burdick graduated from the prestigious St. Thomas Choir School in New York City, and will sing at a Christmas concert at St. John's on Dec. 15. Their sister, Abigail, is a dancer versed in ballet, tap, and improvisation. Of the three babies that Patty Burdick was carrying in 1999, the boys – Joseph and Thomas – were identical, with heartbeats in perfect synch with each other. She heard theirs as one, while triplet Abigail’s heart echoed in rhythm. Two were expected, but three manifested.

The twins wailed soprano as they announced their entry into the world. Thomas was first, followed a mere 50 seconds later by Joseph, with Abigail stepping out lightly.

They have been singing and dancing ever since.

Now 17, Abigail is an accomplished dancer while the Burdick boys are in demand all over the region for their musical skills and versatility. Thomas and Joseph, Bishop Hendricken juniors, have sung in several Newport church concerts, including Emmanuel Church and St. Mary’s, but have found a Sunday home at High Mass in the choir at St. John the Evangelist.

They sing clearly, but the pair does more. Joseph composed a piece of music for Evensong on Nov. 13 at a service celebrating the 122nd anniversary of the consecration of the Zabriskie Memorial Church.

On Thursday, Dec. 15, at 7 p.m. during a Christmas concert featuring the choristers of the Choir School and the adult choir of St. John’s, Joseph will premiere a carol he wrote. The twins will also sing in a performance of Handel’s “Messiah” at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence with the Providence Singers and the Rhode Island Philharmonic on Dec. 10.

“I find their vocal flexibility particularly valuable,” said Peter Berton, who directs the two choral ensembles at St. John’s. “They can sing alto, tenor, bass, and even soprano if the music needs them to.

“It’s like moving around these valuable chess pieces on a choral scoreboard,” added Berton. “Their versatility makes them among the most valuable types of musicians to have in a choir.”

For Berton and the Burdicks – who live in Warwick – St. John’s has provided a reunion of sorts. The boys graduated from New York’s St. Thomas Choir School on West 58th Street – an Episcopal boarding school founded in 1919.

The school houses, nurtures and educates the boy choristers of its world-renowned choir. St. Thomas is the only church-affiliated boarding school of its kind in the U.S.

“It is one of only four like it in the world,” said Berton. The choirmaster knows this because he was once an organist at the famous Manhattan institution.

“We were looking for a different place to worship,” said Patty Burdick. “We learned that Peter was starting a choir school here and was in need of more people. The boys are tenors and have worked well with Peter and we all wanted to help him build the church through the choir. Peter understands the level of choral music that the boys have been trained to do all of their lives.”

Their discipline comes from a mother willing to uproot anywhere to further their potential and a brave, decorated father who was deployed as a military policeman overseas in 1999 – one of four combat tours of duties – on that Sept. 3 when they were born.

There is no precise moment attributed to their first forays into songwriting, however. Joseph said he started in sixth grade. But Patty recalls asking Thomas what he was doing at age 2 while barely big enough to hold a toy musical instrument and hearing him intone clearly, “I’m writing a song, mom!”

“Both compose. Thomas is more on the keyboard side, while Joseph is more on the choral side,” said mentor Berton.

They assimilate each other’s gifts and even finish each other’s sentences and musical phrases in composition. Abigail – versed in ballet, tap, and improvisation – has performed on stage with her brothers during Bishop Hendricken’s Show Choir.

“Each aspect of music gives you a different feeling,” said Thomas. “But singing in church for God is a beautiful thing. It is something most people take for granted, but it is one of the best feelings music can provide.”

“We have been trained in choral music our whole lives, but we don’t close our minds,” added Joseph. “We listen to every kind of music – blues, R & B. We write regular songs, too.”

“We know we are better together than we are apart,” said Thomas. “Maybe we should split, but we know in our hearts we wouldn’t be as good.”

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