George Jennings Burnett Memorial Bursary

Born in Stogumber, Somerset, on 21 December 1867, Burnett came to New Westminster in 1889 as choir director of Olivet Baptist church. In 1891 he came to Victoria to take the position of organist at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and, during his tenure there, he instituted a series of weekly organ recitals which became an important part of the musical life of Victoria. On 19 December 1900 he married Rosabella Jane Lennie who has been a member of his choir at Olivet and in 1904 he was appointed organist and choirmaster at the Church of St. John the Divine, a position which he held for thirty-seven years. He was accompanist for the Arion Club Make Voice Choir for many years and was elected to honorary membership in the organization, a distinction bestowed upon few of those associated with the oldest male-voice choir in Canada. He was a charter member of the Victoria Choral Society and of the British Columbia Music Teachers’ Association.

A modest and unassuming man, Burnett was always reticent to discuss his talents and accomplishments, but quietly went about the tasks of teaching, playing and composing. One of his former students describes him thus: “He was a great Christian gentleman. Beloved and respected by all who has the privilege of knowing him he inspired others both spiritually and musically and was keenly interested in musical development of the West.”

During the course of his career in Victoria he wrote more than seventy compositions, mostly religious in nature, the following of which were published during his lifetime: three Anglican services (London, c1910); the anthem O Paradise (London, c1905); the songsNearer My God to Three (London & Toronto, 1899), Abide with Me (London & Toronto, 1900), Sun of my Soul (Toronto, c1900), Amid the Shadows, (Toronto, 1903), Lullaby(Toronto, c1914), Little Sweetheart (London, 1933) and Lunette (Toronto, c1914); the piano pieces Gavotte Canadienne (Toronto, c1900) and The British African Gavotte(originally written in 1898 as “Gavotte Victoria” but published in London under the former title in 1900); and several hymn tunes. His British-African Gavotte was republished by the Canadian Musical Heritage Society in 1985 and several of his compositions were broadcast by the CBC from the Sharon (Ont.) Festival in July 1985. The song Little Sweetheart was dedicated to his daughter Phillis (Mrs. Jon Eltringham) who still lives in the family home at 606 Niagara Street in James By.

Perhaps the first person in Victoria to have a pipe organ in him home, Burnett’s personal instrument now forms part of the organ at the Oak Bay United Church. He died in Victoria on 10 January 1941.

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