A Passion for Music

by Bundy H. Boit

For those interested in learning more about 37-year Summit resident Kate Bundy Burke and her early musical career, Bundy H.Boit has donated a copy of her recently published two-volume Kate Hull Bundy, Diaries of a Young Pianist, 1891-1898 to the Summit Historical Society.

America’s Centennial year of 1876 arrived with the ringing of church bells at midnight, January 1, in the small village of Oxford, New York. People rushed out of bed thinking there must be a terrible fire. A couple of weeks after the patriotic celebrations my grandmother, Kate Hull Bundy, was born to Nathan and Ella Bundy on January 16th.

 Kate followed her sister Bess, born in 1874, and Agnes, the youngest, arrived in 1880. At young ages, all three girls demonstrated remarkable musical abilities. Bess would become a gifted violinist, Kate a talented pianist, and Agnes, a life-long cellist.

Kate Hull Bundy in debut concert gown

Kate Hull Bundy in debut concert gown

 At the urging of Nathan’s half-sister, Elizabeth Bundy, MD, the family moved to Philadelphia in order to expose the girls to greater musical opportunities. Kate was 14 when she left her beloved Oxford, where she had many friends. In Philadelphia, Nathan Bundy held intermittent jobs and at times lived in New York City, commuting home on weekends or whenever the girls performed in concert. Their mother, Ella, often took in boarders to help make ends meet. The girls added their support with money received from performances and accompanying other musicians, as well as income from teaching fees.

 While in Philadelphia, Kate started to keep a daily journal of her piano studies under Constantin Sternberg (1852-1924) conductor, composer and teacher. She disclosed many interesting aspects of the girls’ social lives as well as giving details about concerts and music lectures in which she and her sisters performed or which they attended. Central Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia was an important part of the Bundy’s life and required their attendance for various meetings and activities several times a week. Kate’s 29 diary books cover the years 1891-1898 when she was 15-22 years old.

In 1895, at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music, Kate gave her debut concert with the New York Damrosch Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Mr. Sternberg. She played Rubinstein’s Concerto in D to a full and appreciative audience.

In 1897, she realized her dream of studying piano in Berlin, Germany with Karl Heinrich Barth (1847-1922). Her sister Bess accompanied Kate on the voyage over. But as she greatly missed her fiancé, Joe Culbert, Bess stayed only six weeks, long enough to take a few lessons from the renowned violinist, Karel Halir (1859-1909). Upon Bess’s departure, Kate wrote in her diary of December 13, 1897, “The wrench came this morning, and now I am alone in Germany.”  

Returning home from Berlin in 1898 and vowing never to marry, Kate had four proposals in three years. However, one cherished friend from Oxford won her heart. Kate married Daniel Burke on August 20, 1901. They lived in Brooklyn, New York where Dan was a lawyer and son James was born in 1904.

In 1908, Dan and Kate Burke moved to Summit, where they settled into a house on Hawthorne Place. Their daughter Agnes was born in 1912 and son Coleman in 1914. The family subsequently moved to Fernwood Road where the three children would grow up. Dan established the law firm of Burke & Burke in New York City, which eventually included his two sons, James and Coleman.

Kate Bundy Burke at home on Fernwood Road

Kate Bundy Burke at home on Fernwood Road

In the 1920s, Kate Bundy Burke served as chairman of the music department of Summit’s Fortnightly Club. The Summit Herald and Summit Record of February 25, 1927 gives a glowing account of a musicale held February 23rd at the home of Mrs. Thomas L. Smith of Prospect St. “Mrs. Burke [pianist] and Mrs. Van de Water [lyric soprano]…musicians of unusual ability, outdid themselves to please their large and appreciative audience…The performance of a program of such technical demands might easily require some intermission for rest on the part of the performers, but the two artists seemed bent on giving as much music as the afternoon would hold, and Mrs. Burke’s rendition of Liszt’s tremendously difficult Etude “Waldesrauschen” [Forest Murmurs] left nothing to be desired.”

In her 37 years in Summit, Kate Bundy Burke filled her life with concerts, musicales and the support of young up-and-coming musicians. In addition to her Fortnightly Club participation, Kate served with the Summit division of the Opera Guild and was a member of the Tuesday Music Club. She also became a director of the Music School Settlement of New York and served a term as trustee of the Summit Public Library.  Kate and Dan were regular members of the Summit Methodist church where they also taught Sunday school.

At the age of almost 70, having suffered a previous heart attack, Kate succumbed to a second one October 2, 1945. Her death came as a shock especially to those friends and relatives in her Oxford community where she had spent precious summers and vacations. Kate’s funeral service took place at the Summit Methodist Church October 4, 1945 with Rev. Henry L. Lambdin officiating. The flowers were so profuse in the chancel that the fragrance was overwhelming. She was buried at Riverview Cemetery in Oxford, NY.

Kate Hull Bundy’s diaries live on as the legacy of a young musician determined to make the most of her musical gifts and at the same time striving to help those less fortunate than herself. The original diaries, along with all the programs she heard and in which she performed are now housed in the Special Collections of the Daniel Burke Library at Hamilton College, in Clinton New York.  The library is named for her husband Dan who graduated from Hamilton in 1893 and was a long-time chairman of the Hamilton College Board of Trustees.


Editor’s note: Bundy H. Boit, a resident of Penobscot, ME, is the granddaughter of Kate Bundy Burke and an accomplished pianist in her own right. She is also a composer, lyricist and writer of plays, short stories and essays.