Singer, composer, actor
Relatives of Austin Burns recall how much they enjoyed him standing on the fireplace hearth at Christmas to give impromptu performances when he was young. He sang and acted on stage through high school.
When he came to LaGrange College as a freshman, he thought he would lean toward composing pop music. But now, as a senior double major in composition and vocal performance, he is just as surprised as anyone that he wants to become an opera singer.
"It's been a little difficult as a double major to try to find myself, to figure out where my strengths are in music," Austin says. "When I came here, I really wanted to be a composer, but I've learned as I've been here that I'm more of a singer. I've been learning not to feel bad about that but to accept my strengths and learn to play on them. And I think writing a musical and writing for voices specifically—I know about voices—that plays to both my strengths as a singer and as a composer that I've been writing for vocals."
Austin Burns' "Ballad of the Pawns" as well as original compositions by Angela Hutchins and Patrick Reagan.
Three LaGrange College professors have had a profound impact on helping Austin hone his strengths: Dr. Toni Anderson in vocal performance, Lee Johnson in composition and Kim
Barber Knoll in theatre arts.
"I'd say the biggest influence I have is Dr. Anderson, my voice teacher, since I'm going to pursue voice as more of a career," he says. "Lee Johnson has definitely helped me as a composition student. And with my love for theatre, Professor Knoll has helped me not only on stage but in my musical pursuits."
Austin began as a college freshman acting on LaGrange's Price Theater stage as a townsperson in "Brigadoon." He enjoyed the reactions of local schoolchildren when he played the witch in "Hansel and Gretel" his sophomore year. By his junior year, he played the captain in "Dames at Sea." He then took on the role of the barber Pirelli in "Sweeney Todd."
"All the roles are fun for different reasons," he says. "I really did enjoy 'Sweeney Todd' because Pirelli had a lot of falsetto passages, and I really enjoyed doing that. "
Austin is in the midst of writing a two-person musical that will be performed on April 19 in Price Theater. The musical evolved from a song he composed called "If I Were A Poet."
"It's about a writer who is also an actor, and he's always been pushed into acting in other people's play, to perform great works by other people," he says. "But the writer feels he has something to say as well. The piece really tells a story, which is kind of a departure from what I normally do, so I took it to Professor Knoll because Professor Johnson said my music could lend itself to musicals."
Professor Knoll found a Tennessee Williams' one-act called "I Can't Imagine Tomorrow," which tells the story of a man with a speech impediment who is in love with a woman but can't express how he feels. In addition to "If I Were A Poet," he is composing songs inspired by the one-act to develop the student-performed and directed musical.
Austin says he appreciates beginning able to perform on stage beginning his freshman year.
"You get so many diverse opportunities right from the time you get to the college," he says. "It's not hard to get involved. I feel like I didn't seek out the things I was going to be in. Sometimes a teacher just came to me and said, 'Hey, you're going to be in this.' And I just kind of held on for dear life and tried to be the best I could. The teachers here want to push you; they want you to broaden your horizons."
Austin doesn't have a passion for just classical music and operas, he says.
"There's a lot more to me than just my classical sound," Austin says. "Composers had many facets to their personalities and to the music they wrote, like incorporating jazz and classical elements into one piece, and I want to do the same thing with my voice. I want to do Broadway, I want to do pop, I want to do classical singing and jazz.
"People think of them as being so far separated, but as you study the music, you see the lines are a lot more blurred than you think they are. In the end, music is just music, and it doesn't matter what style it is."
No matter what type of music is on the program, Austin will have a passion for performing.
"A lot of people get really nervous on stage, and I get kind of nervous, but that rush of nervousness is also what makes it so great," he says. "Some people get a rush from jumping out of airplanes; I get it from performing and being on the stage. I get such a high from that. It just makes me happy."