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Singer-songwriter blends a compelling sound with a passion for literature
Story by Irene Liguori, with photo by Mark Dellas
Noa Bursie distinctly recalls standing in her crib, shaking the rails to the rhythm of Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack.”
But Richard Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries” galloped through Bursie’s nursery, too, as did the melodies of American composer Aaron Copland and bluegrass musician Ralph Stanley. And don’t forget jazz singer Nina Simone.
“She was my metaphoric binky. That’s what I was nursed on,” laughs Bursie, born Donna Bursie, one of nine siblings and now a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter who opens for acts like Richie Havens and Grammy Award–winning artists India.Arie and Shawn Colvin.
The eclectic musical universe of her childhood colors Bursie’s two CD releases to date—TalkStory (2005) and Familiar Addiction (2008). It also inspires her teaching of world literature at Buffalo’s nationally ranked City Honors High School.
Though sometimes compared to Joni Mitchell, Bursie’s is a compelling sound all its own. Her voice is a dark chocolate fountain, splashing easily into any musical genre. She seasons her lyrics with smart, worldly, passionate observations of life’s journey.
UB degrees EdM ’89 & BA ’81; Musical habits keeps her Mary J. Blige CD right next to Alison Krauss’ in her car; Recent MySpace quote “Live life like you mean it”; Recent life-changing book read Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculée Ilibagiza
As a teen, Bursie first sneaked into an older brother’s room to begin picking out melodies on his guitar. By the time she reached UB, she was playing coffeehouses and getting hooked on language and culture in classes taught by classics professor Samuel Paley and Hebrew instructor Yael Lazar, EdM ’83.
She ultimately devoted herself to becoming fluent in Hebrew, living in Israel for extended periods. Bursie converted to Judaism and took “Yael” as one of her Jewish names. The other was “Noa,” an Israeli folk singer she admires.
UB English professors Ray Federman and the late Joseph Fradin talked about literature in ways she had never considered before, Bursie says. These ways stretched her and taught her a whole new way of looking at the written word. “It made me the teacher I am today,” she asserts.
Bursie says she lies awake nights devising ways to deliver that same passion for literature to her students at City Honors. When analyzing a book, she says, it’s important to read between the lines. Music is often the perfect vehicle to make the connection.
For instance, she recently used Pat Metheny Group’s Still Life (Talking) CD to set the mood for her students’ first encounter with Toni Morrison’s haunting novel Beloved.
“It makes a light bulb go on, and then they want to know more,” Bursie says.
Listen to “Holes in my Pockets” from Noa Bursie’s CD TalkStory
© 2005 Noa Bursie
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The Buffalo News posted a photo gallery of Hayes Hall to coincide with the building's reopening ceremony.