During the school year, the Walker Valley High School student drags himself out of bed at 4:45 a.m. so he can fit in a couple hours of trumpet practice before school.
“It gets overwhelming otherwise,” Burton said of trying to squeeze a practice schedule into the life of a busy student.
The Cleveland native is a rising high school senior with all the typical distractions—homework, extracurricular activities and friends. He practices in the morning so he won't be able to talk himself out of it after a long school day. Most days, staying in bed until 5:20 is sleeping in, Burton said.
Other parts of his day revolve around music too, with time spent attending high school band practices, spending time with friends who share his love of music and playing bass guitar for a bluegrass garage band.
Trumpet is the instrument of choice now, but that was not the first one he learned to play.
When Burton was in second grade, he started taking piano lessons. His mother, a music teacher at Oak Grove Elementary School, was working on her master's degree at the time, and she had him and his three brothers all take lessons.
“I've always been involved in music because I've always been surrounded by music,” he said.
It wasn't until the sixth grade that he picked up the trumpet. He started playing in Ocoee Middle School’s band, and was encouraged to try the instrument. Two of his older brothers and some of his uncles had played the trumpet, and one of their instruments was passed down to him.
He found it hard to play at first and got frustrated when he did not hit the right notes. But Burton kept practicing until he got better, and his work would eventually pay off.
The first accolade he ever earned an award for “Best Brass” when he played in the band at Ocoee Middle School. He said that was the first time he really realized he was doing something right when he played. That accomplishment would be the first of many.
Burton has played in the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera Youth Orchestra for four years and spent two years of that time as its principal trumpet player. In 2010, he won the youth orchestra's Youth Concerto Competition. This past March, he was a finalist in the National Trumpet Competition. This past April, he was featured on an episode of National Public Radio's show “From The Top” when they taped an episode in Chattanooga. He also won the youth competition at the International Trumpet Guild conference this past May. His most recent achievement was attending Baylor University's High School Band and Orchestra camp on a scholarship.
But he doesn’t spend too much time thinking about that. He is already looking ahead to other competitions, and that means a lot of practice, he said. He said the only reason he has found success is because he was willing to invest the time. He believes anyone can find success in what they are passionate about if they commit themselves to practicing.
“Anybody can do it,” he said. “I'm no different than anyone else. I just work at it.”
He pointed out that a lot of talented people see its not about natural talent; it's about hard work.
“If you want to do it, put your mind to it,” Burton said.
That is his mantra—the one that keeps him getting up at 4:45 in the morning to practice.
Burton, who will be a high school senior this fall, is looking ahead to his future career goals as he gets closer to graduation.
His music genre of choice is classical, and he said his favorite experiences have involved playing with an orchestra. His future career goal is to play trumpet professionally. He likes the idea of playing with the New York Philharmonic or the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but he is unsure where he will settle down.
“There's always a place,” Burton said. “But I'll take little steps to get wherever I go.”
He is working on a list of colleges to which he wants to apply, and colleges like Baylor University and Northwestern University are at the top of the list. Wherever he ends up, he wants to earn a degree in music.
As for the accolades, Burton does not consider winning awards to be what really defines his accomplishments. He's more concerned about what he has learned and how well he actually plays the trumpet.
“The awards don't matter,” Burton said. “It's all about the progress. I'm still not where I need to be.”He said that view will stay with him as he graduates from high school, heads to college and pursues his dream career.