FOUNDING MUSICAL DIRECTOR – CONDUCTOR BURYL RED, 1969-2013
Buryl Red, noted composer, arranger and producer. His work, described by the Washington Post as “uncommonly creative,” has been heard in such widely diverse places as Carnegie Hall, Saturday Night Live, thousands of churches, schools and theaters (including Broadway and Radio City Music Hall) around the world. His output includes more than 2,500 published compositions and arrangements, production of over 4,000 CD’s, author/editor of more than 50 college/school music textbooks, and the musical supervision, composition, and/or arranging for several hundred shows, documentaries, and music specials, many of them award winning, for network and cable television. Several of his choral works including Celebrate Life (with lyrics by Ragan Courtney), It’s Cool in the Furnace (with lyrics by Grace Hawthorne) and the first performing edition of the Pergolesi Magnificat (with Virginia Red) are considered landmarks. He was the executive record producer, or consulting producer, for all of the most widely used school music textbooks in the United States including the recent Silver Burdett Ginn Making Music series.
In 1969, at the behest of the Southern Baptist Radio & Television Commission, Buryl Red founded The CenturyMen, an auditioned men’s chorus of professional Christian musicians who are music ministers and educators from across the United States. Red co-arranged and orchestrated most of the music for The CenturyMen since its inception.
Other major collaborations have resulted in a Drama Desk Nomination for Outstanding Orchestrations (Violet, winner of the New York Drama Critics award for Best Musical), and orchestrations for Caroline or Change (6 Tony nominations on Broadway and winner of the Olivier Award for Best New Musical in London).
Recently, he was co-orchestrator with Joseph Joubert, on the feature film Nights in Rodanthe starring Diane Lane and Richard Gere. Together with Michael McElroy they received a Grammy nomination as arrangers for their setting of “Joy To the World” from the Broadway Inspirational Voices CD Great Joy –– A Gospel Christmas. With Linda Twine and Joseph Joubert, Red created the music score for the acclaimed Emmy nominated documentary, We Shall Not Be Moved, narrated by Ossie Davis.
He has been honored with many civic and professional awards and honorary degrees. Among his most recent honors are the Tercentennial Medal from Yale University, the Exemplary Leadership in Christian Music Award from Baylor University, and the W. Hines Sims Award from the Southern Baptist Church Music Conference. As evidence of his versatility and eclectic interests, Buryl Red enjoyed the distinction of having been nominated for Grammy awards in both the popular division (arranging) and the classical division (classical crossover). He was particularly honored with the inclusion of his well-known song, “In Remembrance”, in the African-American Heritage Hymnal published in 2001.
BURYL RED – INNOVATOR, TEACHER, MENTOR, FRIEND.
A TRIBUTE TO BURYL BY VIRGINA RED
Born in Little Rock in 1936 into a Southern Baptist family, Buryl played piano in his parents’ church. Early on, to his mother’s dismay, this talented boy, who had been playing since the age of three, would improvise on the hymns, and make arrangements of well-known Christian songs in the service. As he grew up he became fascinated with Black Gospel music in African-American churches in his neighborhood and often made impromptu visits to their services to soak up the sound and style.
In high school and at Baylor University, formal music training in classical music and informal exposure to Jazz and popular music further broadened his horizons. He was able to attend concerts by touring professional orchestras and pop entertainment in a time when they were far less common than today. Yale Graduate Music School was where Buryl and I met in a theory class, and where I looked in vain for an auburn-haired person who responded to the nickname ‘Red’. He and I and a small band of like-minded friends were eager to see all the new independent films, concerts, operas, and performance art showings in the heady contemporary scene that was the ‘50’s and ‘60’s in New York.
Buryl’s professional career began in earnest after graduating from Yale. He was music director at the Manhattan Baptist Church and music editor at a major New York publisher. Both of these positions put him in contact with a wide array of musicians and other artists and educators pursuing careers in the city. During this time and the decades that followed, Buryl was composing music such as “Celebrate Life” that was to become well-known throughout the country. As music editor of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Buryl’s task was to make recordings of all the music in the published textbooks in grades 1-6 – hundreds of folk songs from around the world – in typical musical settings. Research into the authenticity of style and instrumentation was essential, as were high production values. For unfamiliar instruments he needed skilled performers and singers who had good diction and spoke as a native.
In 1969, the Radio and Television division of the Sothern Baptist Convention invited Buryl to become the musical director of the CenturyMen, a 100-voice men’s choir composed of auditioned music directors throughout the Convention, whose mission was to share the Christian message through singing on Radio and TV, concerts, making recordings and concert tours in the US and fifteen foreign countries. All of these activities during the next 40+ years enhanced the reputation of the CenturyMen and afforded its director opportunities to work across cultural boundaries, notably in China, where he wrote music to be played by the national traditional orchestra with the CenturyMen, and Brazil, where native musicians joined the singers in concert.
Wherever his career path led him, his studio/office was ‘home’ to Buryl. It became the nexus for scores of musicians and other artists, for educators, for conductors, publishers and for expert users of the newest technologies. It was the first stop in New York for anyone seeking help with a project or a job, or information about recordings, or tickets for Broadway shows, or a diner’s guide to the City. It soon became a second home to all of these.
Of the dozen albums the CenturyMen have recorded since the group’s inception, only this last one, “Songs Along the Way”, was not conducted by Buryl Red. All of his arrangements for the new album had been completed for recording sessions scheduled to take place in Nashville in early February 2013 but by that time Buryl’s long illness had progressed so rapidly that he was unable to make the trip to Nashville. He passed away April 1.
Over the years, The CenturyMen as an institution has evolved gradually but remained true to its mission. The men are as devoted to it as ever. And the Board is capably assuming its important role. In the months before his passing, Buryl expressed his heartfelt wish, to me and the Board members, that new leadership be found soon to guide the organization into the future. He didn’t presume to suggest what that future might look like, only that it should be built upon and informed by its rich legacy, which is now imprinted on our collective memory. Buryl was adamant that the CenturyMen continue, not for his own, but for the organization’s sake in realizing its mission.