Whether he's singing in local musicals such as "Sweeney Todd," "Man of La Mancha" and "Godspell" or teaching choir, guitar and ukulele at West High School, the inspirational Ken Burdick has an irresistible urge to live large in the moment with energy and considerable vocal talent.
On Sunday, Burdick, along with his wife, Jill, Monty Byrom and others, will offer a varied program of pieces from popular musicals to favorites by rock groups such as Pearl Jam and Coldplay at a concert at First Congregational Church as part of the annual Dukes Concert Series.
"It's a free concert. There's no reason not to come," Burdick said in a recent phone interview.
Although best known today for his voice and acting abilities over the past 30 years, Burdick came to music by way of the oboe, which he began playing at Mount Vernon Elementary, then at Chipman and Highland High in Bakersfield where teachers such as Richard Meeks, Ronald Hanst, Jeannie Johnson and Robbie Martinez saw and nurtured his natural talent.
"I am a proud product of the Bakersfield music education system," he said.
Then at Long Beach State on a music scholarship he began to venture into musical theater, also singing in choirs and studying opera.
"It was then I realized that adding language to my music was where I wanted to be," he said. "The beautiful poetry was like fire coming off of my lips, and I haven't looked back since."
Later he returned to Bakersfield College where he met his wife, Jill, through music productions and eventually graduated from Cal State Bakersfield. He and Jill have four children, who are also musically gifted.
Burdick counts MGM musicals as one of his greatest influences, but also actors like Danny Kaye, Gene Kelly and John Denver. "There are actually too many to name."
The local performer's own memorable starring roles in community theater include his portrayals of Jesus in "Jesus Christ Superstar," Don Quixote in "Man of La Mancha" and Frankie in "Forever Plaid."
Burdick continues to teach choir at West and voice at Bakersfield College. Next year, his West High program will also include a rock band element and possibly a mariachi class that he hopes will eventually become a performance group for community events.
In the future, Burdick hopes to form a permanent rock band, but right now he is looking at as many opportunities to perform as possible.
"In the past I've played with the Easy In, a local ska/reggae group, and a few one-shot groups. My next big project is an ’80s cover band with a few friends from the old days. Hopefully, I will continue to play with Monty and the guys."
But for now events on Burdick's performance schedule include Sunday's Dukes concert, the Meridian Voices event on April 23 and the CSUB Opera Series on May 5.
The Dukes concert will be at 4 p.m. Sunday at First Congregational Church, 5 Real Road.
Admission to the concert is free but door donations are appreciated to help support the series.
This is the latest concert of the 2022-23 Fred and Beverly Dukes Concert Series, which began in 2005.
The concert series concludes May 21 with the Bakersfield Jazz Orchestra.
All concerts occur on Sundays at 4 p.m. and are free of charge.
Marjorie Bell is a co-founding board member of the Dukes Memorial Concert Series.