Professor of Music, York University & Artistic Director / Conductor, Toronto Mass Choir, Toronto, ON. Born: Brantford, ON.
Karen Burke is a Professor of Music at York University and the co-founder, artistic director and conductor of the Toronto Mass Choir, a unique Canadian contemporary gospel choir which has been recording and touring over the past 23 years.
The Toronto Mass Choir was first established as a workshop recording project and has attracted over 300 choristers during its existence. TMC’ s credits include seven albums, two Juno nominations, a Juno award, four international tours and countless festival, church and concert appearances. Karen’s groundbreaking work in gospel music, and the enduring music of the Toronto Mass Choir, has been the subject of several television documentaries and radio broadcasts.
Born in Brantford, Ontario, Karen’ s love for gospel music was nurtured through the strong musical legacy of her family, whose roots on both sides can be traced back to the 1800s in Ontario. Karen continued her musical training at McMaster University, and received her A.R.C.T. Diploma in Piano Teaching from the Royal Conservatory of Music.
After twelve years as a high school music teacher, Karen transitioned to York University in 2005, developing the first post-secondary gospel music curricular programme in Canada and establishing the 100-voice York University Gospel Choir. Her music career also includes work as an adjudicator and clinician offering gospel music workshops for organizations including the University of Western Ontario, the Ontario Music Educators Association (OMEA), the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and Poland’s ‘Warsztaty Gospel’ (gospel workshop).
Karen has been a guest conductor and organizer for a number of choral festivals including the Conference of Independent Schools’ Music Festival, the Ontario Christian High School Choral Festival and the Dufferin-Peel Vocal Festival. Karen also established the annual Gospel Inter-Varsity Explosion (G.I.V.E.) at York University, which provides a showcase for post-secondary gospel choirs in individual and massed choir performances.
Karen is also in demand as a vocalist, speaker and lecturer, working extensively in Canada and abroad. Her international tours with the Toronto Mass Choir have taken her to eight different countries including Italy, Romania, Trinidad and England.
Other: Karen and her husband Oswald are the owners of Burke Music Inc., a music consulting and publishing company and Micah Communications Inc., a music production entity that has released, over the past two decades, some of Canada’s most prominent Gospel recordings. An active member of SOCAN, Karen has written over 30 of her own compositions and collaborated on many recordings of other artists.
Honours: Nominee, Leslie Bell Conducting Prize (2009); recipient, Positive Impact Gospel Award; Lifetime Achievement award, Vision Awards; Gospelfest Toronto Pioneer Award; Thomas A. Dorsey Award.
Favourite book? My favourite book in the world, besides the Bible, which I find both fascinating and inspirational, is the book that I read when I was 16 years-old, How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in vocal music education and choral conducting!
Given the chance, what would you love to do that you haven’t done yet? I would love to host my own syndicated radio show. My vantage point in the world is so unique, being one of the few Underground Railroad descendants living in Canada as well as being steeped in both gospel and classical music simultaneously, with the skill set to criss-cross and teach in both worlds. I have much to share!
Who inspires you? Without a doubt, Jesus Christ, and any true follower of Him, inspires me.
Why do you do what you do? I do what I do because I am compelled by the recognition of both the power of gospel music, and the great void in our education system with regards to choral programs. The two are a natural fit!