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Pianist, poet and artist team up on fundraising show

What: Christmas in the Box Where: Metro Studio (1411 Quadra St. at Johnson Street) When: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $20, $15 (tel. 250-216-5623) It's a pretty safe bet if Victoria's Heather Burns is involved, the show will go on.

What: Christmas in the Box

Where: Metro Studio (1411 Quadra St. at Johnson Street)

When: Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $20, $15

(tel. 250-216-5623)

It's a pretty safe bet if Victoria's Heather Burns is involved, the show will go on.

On Sunday, the pianist teams up with poet Carla Funk and artist Rose Cowles-Martin for Christmas in the Box. It's an unorthodox evening of music, poetry and painting -- sometimes happening at the same time. Proceeds go to Sanctuary Youth Centre.

Burns has a reputation as a super trouper, at least in theatre circles. It's mostly connected to a single incident. Burns kept playing piano for My Fair Lady in 2006, even after breaking her arm.

It happened with three weeks left on the 104-performance run at Chemainus Theatre Festival. Burns, who was staying in Chemainus, went for a jog. She tripped on a stump, fracturing two bones in her right arm. The doctor bound her in a splint rather than a cast, thus allowing her to move her fingers a little.

"It was a challenge, I had to continue playing the show with one hand," Burns said. "I played the odd note with my right hand. I developed a really good left-hand technique."

On Sunday night, a fully recovered Burns and her band will play Christmas and other music. At various times, Funk (Victoria's former poet laureate) will simultaneously recite, while Cowles-Martin paints a large canvas on stage.

"Whatever's in my brain comes out and it's enhanced by the music and poetry," said Cowles-Martin, a graphic artist and children's book illustrator.

Burns said the trio first teamed up for a African awareness fundraiser in February. She and Cowles-Martin had collaborated on stage several times previously.

The music-poetry-art combo "isn't too common," Burns said. "We're trying something new. Every time we've done it, we've gotten amazing responses."

Well-known in Victoria as a music director and accompanist for theatre, Burns has cut two solo discs. The latest, Road Back Home, was released in November 2008. To record this collection of original compositions and Christmas songs, Burns decided to rent the perfect grand piano. She embarked on a comprehensive hunt. She and producer Joby Baker tried out 40 before deciding on a battered Yahama grand.

The piano, located at a local music store, appeared an unlikely candidate. It was worse for wear, even missing its wooden sides. Burns was told it was used for British Columbia's 150th birthday concert at the legislature in 2008 with Sarah McLachlan and Feist. Apparently, the instrument was damaged in transit.

"We sat down and played it and thought, this will be a waste of time. And it was the one."

Burns ended up buying the piano, which was repaired. Because she lives in a small condo, it's now stored at Baker's studio, where Burns regularly plays it.

She's something of a prodigy. Originally from Courtenay, Burns started playing piano at age three. When she turned 17, armed with a Grade 10 from the Royal Conservatory of Music, she successfully auditioned to be accompanist for a youth choir that toured continental Europe for three months.

The transformative experience of performing and visiting such countries as Poland, France, Czechoslovakia and Switzerland convinced Burns to become a professional musician. After graduating high school, the teen moved by herself to Los Angeles to study jazz at the Grove School of Music. A master's degree in piano performance from Western Washington University followed.

While Burns loves playing concerts, she enjoys it even more if they support social causes such as the Sanctuary Youth Centre. Churches, individuals and businesses in Victoria created Sanctuary to provide a safe community for young people in need. It connects the youth with help and services.

"These kinds of causes resonate with me," she said. "I tap into that stuff where I can."

achamberlain@tc.canwest.com