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Sumter High School senior Mark Burns' gift is playing the piano, so it shouldn't be a surprise that, for his community service project required to complete his International Baccalaureate diploma, he is putting on a benefit concert.
That concert is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 6, at 7 p.m. at Mayesville Presbyterian Church and will benefit the Emmanuel Soup Kitchen in Sumter.
It will be the school's first IB concert service project, and Burns, 17, discussed the upcoming concert and his love for the piano recently with his instructor, Caroline Mack, at her downtown studio.
Burns said he has been playing the piano since he was 3 with his grandmother, Ethel Barwick, and started playing at area churches at the age of 5.
In total, he said, he's played in about 15 to 20 churches through the years in Sumter and surrounding counties.
Burns is in his 11th year under the instruction of Mack, who operates Caroline Mack Center for the Arts at 103 S. Harvin St.
She describes Burns as "versatile" on the keys with his ability to play different styles of music, and he's also versatile in the sense that he plays at two area churches each Sunday.
He's the pianist and a member at Bethel United Methodist Church in the Oswego community of northern Sumter County and can be found there on the keyboard for the church's 8:30 a.m. Sunday service. By 11 a.m., Burns is up the road in the St. Charles community of Lee County near Bishopville playing for Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church.
It's about 10 miles between the churches, and he simply says that, for him, "Sundays are not a day of rest."
Burns said religious, Christian music is his favorite genre since he has grown up in church and around it.
"I do like the meaning behind that kind of music," he said. "The emotion behind it and the emotion you can express with it, it can make people feel special."
The Dec. 6 benefit concert will be the first concert of any kind that Burns has led and organized, he said, but he has played in both entertainment and benefit concerts in the past.
Two of his three solos that night will be religious-based songs, "O Holy Night" - the concert's title - and "Mary, Did You Know." The third will be "Carol of the Bells," which is a Christmas-based song.
Burns will play his own arrangement of all three, he said.
Ten professional musicians will be joining him in the concert, including his grandmother. Others will include Mack, Kipper Ackerman, Beth Ryan, Betsy Ridgeway, Darin Polutta, David Shoemaker, Kay Rasmussen, Mary Alice Beatson and Tammy Williams.
Burns said he began preparations for the concert during the summer. He chose Emmanuel Soup Kitchen as the local charity to benefit because his home church, Bethel United Methodist, has always supported the kitchen, and he said he admires the passion of its director, Jean Williams.
IF YOU GO
What: O Holy Night (A Concert Benefiting Emmanuel Soup Kitchen)
When: Friday, Dec. 6, 7 p.m.
Where: Mayesville Presbyterian Church, 109 W. Sumter St., Mayesville
Featuring: Mark Burns and Friends
This Hope for the Holidays series premiered last weekend with a feature on Jean Williams and her work at the Emmanuel Soup Kitchen. To read her story, find it online at www.theitem.com.
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