Perfect Harmony transcript


Copyright 2000 Burrelle’s Information Services
CBS News Transcripts
July 16, 2000, Sunday
TYPE: Profile
LENGTH: 1774 words


Though all music teachers try to imbue their students with a sense of Perfect Harmony, that harmony is usually strictly musical. Martha Teichner tells the story of a music instructor with a far bigger challenge, to bring his entire life into harmony.

(Footage of students boarding bus)


(Voiceover) Their 5:30AM departure time has already come and gone, but the good news is the bus is nearly packed. The Miami Beach High School Rock Ensemble is almost ready to leave for Orlando where high school musical groups from all over the country will be competing.

Mr. DOUG BURRIS (Schoolteacher): I’m very proud of everybody for what you’ve done so far this year. I’m sure we’re going to have a great time. Keep in mind that the contest is today. (Footage of Burris, students; students boarding bus)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) Doug Burris, director of Rock Ensemble, does his last-minute pep talk. And, finally, it’s time to go.

Mr. BURRIS: OK, here we go. We’re going up.

(Footage of bus leaving; students, Burris on bus)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) A school trip like any other, except for this difference: Doug Burris has multiple sclerosis. He is unable to move any part of his body except for his head. It is a difference, but as you will see, not a drawback.

(Footage of recording studio sign)

WOODLEY DESIRE (Lead Singer): (Singing) I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.

(Footage of Rock Ensemble, Burris)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) The fact that their high school actually has a Rock Ensemble, not just a marching band or an orchestra, is a much bigger deal to the kids in it than the fact that Doug Burris is in a wheelchair.

Rock Ensemble: (Singing) I guess you’d say what can make me feel this way, my girl…

Unidentified Singer #1: My girl.

Unidentified Singer #2: My girl.

(Footage of Burris, Rock Ensemble)

Mr. BURRIS: (Voiceover) They get to know me and, sooner or later, they don’t see the chair, they just see me.

That’s a very valuable lesson.

DESIRE: (Singing) I’ve got so much love, baby.

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) A lesson not lost on lead singer, Woodley Desire.

DESIRE: It just keeps on inspiring me, because whenever I think, you know, ‘I can’t do this,’ then I just look at Mr. Burris.

(Footage of Teichner, students, Burris)

DESIRE: (Voiceover) I consider him a role model.

Mr. BURRIS: Good morning.

(Vintage photograph of Burris; Burris, Teichner, students)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) It’s been 29 years since Doug Burris first walked into Beach High. About a year after, he was diagnosed with MS. MS is a degenerative disease, but Burris had no idea how fast or how slowly his condition would deteriorate.

Mr. BURRIS: My first thought about all this was ‘What am I going to do to feel useful?’ You know? ‘What am I going to do with my life if it does go really, really bad?’

(Vintage photograph of Burris; footage of Burris, students)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) He was married then. He convinced his wife, Susan, to divorce him so she wouldn’t be burdened. He decided he had to keep teaching. But what?

Mr. BURRIS: Here we go, all together. Ready? Bump and two and three…

(Footage of Burris, students; vintage photograph of Burris)

Mr. BURRIS: (Voiceover) I knew that I wasn’t going to be teaching marching band anymore, so I figured I needed to find something that I could teach. And in Florida, they teach guitar as a class. Because in the beginning, I could play the guitar and show them exactly what I want.

(Vintage photograph of Burris)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) Now he can’t.

Mr. BURRIS: OK, OK, you won the race. You won. Now…

Now they have to listen very closely to see what I have to say and–and describe what–what’s going on.

(Footage of Burris, students)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) You would think teaching guitar would be enough for somebody in Doug Burris’ situation, but it wasn’t. He started the Classical Guitar Ensemble for really serious students.

Mr. BURRIS: That’s it.

(Footage of Burris, students; vintage photograph of Rock Ensemble)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) That wasn’t enough either, so in 1972, he started Rock Ensemble because it was his kind of music. From the very beginning, it has attracted unconventional kids.

Unidentified Singer #3: The only boy who could ever teach me was the son of a preacher man. Yes, he was.

Back-up Singers: Was.

(Footage of Rock Ensemble)

Mr. BURRIS: (Voiceover) Really, the kind of kid who does not want to play third clarinet, doesn’t want to play third trombone, who’s interested in being up in front of people.

Unidentified Singer #3: The look was in his eyes.

Mr. BURRIS: And this is the perfect group for them.

Unidentified Singer #4: These boots are made for walkin’ and that’s just what they’ll do because one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.

(Footage of Rock Ensemble, Burris, Blaise Girard)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) And sometimes it has attracted kids with problems, kids who are on the edge, like Blaise Girard, B.J. to his friends.

BLAISE GIRARD: My grades were extremely low: D’s, maybe a couple of C’s and mostly F’s, you know. I was going nowhere.

(Footage of Girard)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) B.J. didn’t play an instrument or sing, but Doug Burris discovered he had a talent for sound engineering.

GIRARD: Sophomore year when I got into Rock Ensemble, it all changed, and it’s all because, you know, of him. You know, he opened that door to me.

(Footage of Girard, Burris)

GIRARD: (Voiceover) I’m going to college now. Three years ago, I would not have been going to college.

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) About 10 years ago, as his condition worsened, Doug Burris began needing his students as much as they needed him. B.J. is one of a succession of students he has paid to take care of him over the years. They work two or three days a week in 24-hour shifts.

Mr. BURRIS: And we’re not talking about a lot of money here, but we’re talking about $35 or $40 a night to work with me. I mean, that’s–that’s a gift to me because it allows me to do everything that I do.

(Footage of Burris)

Mr. BURRIS: (Voiceover) So they give me my life.

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) The day starts at dawn. Dressing Burris is the hardest part.

Mr. BURRIS: One, two, three.

(Footage of Nelson Ramos and Burris)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) Like B.J., Nelson Ramos works for him, partly because it’s a job, but mostly because he gets something out of it.

Mr. BURRIS: One, two, three. Turn. Three. There you go. That’s good.

(Footage of Ramos, Burris)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) Nelson was business manager of Rock Ensemble till he dropped out of school recently, but he still shows up for work, and Doug Burris is confident he’ll continue his education eventually.

Mr. RAMOS: (Voiceover) I never met my father. And I look at Mr. Burris like my role model. I look at him like my dad, and I can tell him to his face I love him.

Mr. BURRIS: It’s not …(unintelligible) down at the bottom of it.

Mr. RAMOS: He’s just family, someone I need to help, because he’s part of my life.

(Footage of bus; students, Burris on bus)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) But getting back to the trip to Orlando. It’s a funny thing about Doug Burris and his students. Being part of his life, they find themselves changed as he nudges them down the road toward growing up by way of Orlando, Florida.

Mr. BURRIS: Keep on going. Keep on going. Oh, you know what, I would like to go on that ferry boat, though.

(Footage of Burris, students)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) No self-respecting school trip to Orlando would be complete without some R&R at Disney World, so it was off to the Magic Kingdom. And a good time was had by all trying to find Doug Burris a hat. At Disney World they had a good time with their teacher, not in spite of him.

Mr. BURRIS: Let’s go.

GIRARD: Two, two, two. Check.

(Footage of students)

GIRARD: (Voiceover) Check. One, two, three.

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) But it was the competition that had brought them to Orlando in the first place.

Mr. BURRIS: Everything is going to be fine. We’ll do a little warm-up out there.

(Footage of Burris, students)

Mr. BURRIS: (Voiceover) The music is the one thread that keeps us all together and on a certain track.

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) For the Classical Guitar Ensemble, the image of intensity and earnestness…

Unidentified Singer #5: I’m about to lose control and I think I like it. I’m so excited.

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) …for Rock Ensemble, rolling through its repertoire…

Unidentified Singer #5: And I know, I know, I know, I know, I know I want you.

(Footage of students, judges)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) …the setting was pretty intimidating. Student groups don’t perform for an audience, only for the judges sitting stony-faced in the back of the empty auditorium.

Unidentified Singer #6: …goes out with other guys. And here’s the moral of the story from the guy who knows. I fell in love and my love still grows.

(Footage of Burris)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) Doug Burris sat stony-faced backstage.

Audience: (Chanting) (Unintelligible)

(Footage of students; Burris)

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) Only on awards night did they discover just how many competitors there were and how fired up everybody was. Doug Burris, it seems, had finally found a hat.

(Footage of Burris, students)

Mr. BURRIS: (Voiceover) I think it’s probably better the way I am now.


Mr. BURRIS: Yeah, because kids learn not only about music, but how to survive. They probably look at me as some sort of an example.

Unidentified Man: The Rock Ensemble, wearing a hat over in this corner, Miami Beach…

TEICHNER: (Voiceover) On a night when everyone was rewarded in one way or another, there were only first-place trophies for Doug Burris’ kids.

Mr. BURRIS: All right.

DESIRE: Thanks, B.

Mr. BURRIS: Yeah, man. Congratulations. Good job.

Unidentified Student: Love you, Burris.

Mr. BURRIS: Love you, too. You guys deserved it. You deserve it.

The end of my life, what would I say? I’d just be very proud of what I’ve done. I’m very happy to have–have been there.

(Excerpt from vintage newscast)

MASON: (Voiceover) Still ahead…

WALTER CRONKITE: Good evening from CBS News control center in New York. This is Walter Cronkite reporting.

MASON: (Voiceover) …a tribute to Walter Cronkite’s first 50 years in television.