John Winiarz, Concordia University, Montreal

“A tribute to Robert Turner”

For almost 40 years, since the time I first met him when I was a composition student at the University of Manitoba’s School of Music (during 1972-75), Robert Turner and I maintained a personal friendship. Because we lived very far apart and were busy with our own lives, we rarely saw each other or spoke together. However, through an uninterrupted exchange of letters and by some occasional visits between Montreal and Winnipeg, we continued to be close to each other.

He was both friendly and a true friend to me. I treasure the many frank and direct letters he sent to me enclosed within our annual exchange of Christmas cards, in which he would outline his musical experiences over the past year, and reflect about Canadian society’s ways with the musical arts. Always very supportive, he never declined any of my requests for a letter of recommendation, and in addition to writing a letter on my behalf, he always included a personal copy for me, along with an inserted handwritten note of encouragement. Unlike so many opportunists in the arts, he did not play political strategies with his position as a senior Canadian composer and instead was open to helping many young lesser-known composers with their careers. This included not only local composers whom he knew personally, or those who worked in a style or medium close to his own, but also those in other provinces, including talent in Quebec, his native province, and composers who created electro-acoustic compositions.

On the rare occasions when we actually met face-to face, he always gave me the privilege of his full attention and concentration. I remember being impressed that while visiting him at his home he ignored the continuous ringing of the telephone so as not to interrupt our private conversation. A quiet, modest, soft-spoken man, his personality gives concrete meaning to the proverb “still waters run deep” as there was a great profundity to his often aphoristic comments which rang true in the mind for many years.

He compared the career of a composer to that of a philosopher who continues to develop his thought and believes in the value of his own work.

It is very sad to lose such a friend and talented individual, but we are fortunate to inherit elements of his personality and his ideas about art and life within the many attractive musical compositions, a garden of musical treasures, which he has left behind for us to discover. Among the works I carry in my musical sub consciousness (great compositions by Bach, Chopin, Mozart, Wagner, etc.) is Robert Turner’s opening theme from his Concerto for Two Pianos.

Robert Turner strongly affected me by both his music and his humanity, and his memory continues to inspire me.

John Winiarz