A Little Girl with Big Ideas
What sort of environment creates someone like Sheyna Burt? The oldest of four children, Burt quips, “I was always super bossy. I wanted to be queen of the universe, but apparently that is not a thing, so short of doing that, I wanted to be an astronaut, but by age ten I knew I wanted to be an attorney.” She was serious about it too, carrying a briefcase to school in lieu of a book bag. In public school she also had the opportunity to learn to play an instrument. Hers was a violin, and right away she loved it. “I remember getting a violin just before fifth grade started, making the most obnoxious noises with it. I remember the way it smelled. I was obsessed with how it sounded and how it smelled. ”
Later, when Burt was invited to participate in the Governor’s School for the Arts, she describes it as a “transformative moment” in her life. “I found my fellow nerds of music!” she says with satisfaction. The Governor’s School mission statement identifies it as “a center for innovation that develops excellence, nurtures creativity, inspires artistic vision and builds communities with a passion for the arts.”
Role Models and Mentors
“My first mentors were in the house,” says Burt. “Both of my parents were extremely inspirational to me. They were able to pull themselves into the middle class by their intelligence, their drive, and hard work, so I expected the same from myself.” She gives high praise to the Prince William County Public School system and her mentors there. “I was so lucky to have the teachers I had.”
You Can’t Do Both
As a junior in college, Burt studied music as a major. A panel of musicians was invited to answer questions from students in one of her classes. One musician was from a musical group, which Burt says she will not name. She told him she was studying both law and music, and asked if it was possible to have careers in both fields? The musician laughed and replied, “Absolutely not. If you want to practice law, do that. If you want to become a musician, do that, but pick one. You can’t do both.” Burt was crushed, realizing that if he was right, after college her dreams of playing music would come to an end, so she enjoyed it as much as she could during the remainder of her college life. It wasn’t until about a year after she graduated that she decided he was dead wrong. She could do both, and she has been doing so ever since.
Burt says that after graduating, “I went and got a job with a big city law firm. I was not cut out for it at all. I was not happy.” She moved to a smaller firm, which was a better fit. Eventually though, she opened her own shop so she could have time to do the musical and volunteer work she loved. Even her law firm is all about service. “I wanted to be in practice dealing with people directly,” Burt says, so she focused on family law. Then she added service organizations, like community associations, non-profits, volunteer groups, and arts associations, which now form the bulk of her business.
Old Bridge Chamber Orchestra
A year or so out of law school in 2003, Burt was a law clerk and enjoyed it but felt the need for something more. After researching music in her community she came across Old Bridge Chamber Orchestra and gave them a call. “They were so welcoming and nurturing,” she says. Not only did she go on to play for them, she brought along her two sisters, also musicians. To this day they all still play, but now Burt also serves at the Concertmistress and Board President.
“Our Messiah Sing-Along is easily our most popular event,” says Burt. “There is something profound and beautiful about hundreds of people joining forces to produce this music.” Admission is free but donations are encouraged. Due to popular demand, the event is being offered twice: on Friday, December 16th at First Baptist Church at 13600 Minnieville Road in Woodbridge and on Saturday, December 17th at Grace United Methodist Church at 9750 Wellington Road in Manassas. They usually do five performances per season and details are on their website. Their biggest concert of the year is in May at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas. The “Tribute to American Composers” features songs Americans know and love, including works by Aaron Copland and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
Prince William County Arts Council
Burt suggests a great first step for parents to encourage their children to explore music is by contacting the Prince William County Arts Council. Its job is to support artists and performers while connecting with community members.
World Doctors Orchestra USA
As President of World Doctors Orchestra USA, Burt is excited about the projects this group has in the works, including their goal of bringing a youth choir over from South Africa for an event in June. People short on volunteering time but with an interest in offering support can donate at their website.
Contact Information for Sheyna Burt
To learn more about Burt, visit her website for plenty of information regarding Burt, her volunteer work, her awards, and her business.