It was my great honour to have had Dr. Robert Turner as a theory teacher for so many years at the University of Manitoba, School of Music, in my most formative years as an undergraduate. His classroom manner was quiet, low key; easily imitated, but always and only with affection, admiration and respect. He challenged us a great deal and those of us with even a glimmer of interest in the creative act of music-making rose with eager excitement to the challenge. Our final project for him was writing a four-part fugue for string quartet. He had many words of advice to scrawl after the final bar line of my particular fugue – about the fugue specifically and the art in general, all exceptionally perceptive and learned comments; but he nevertheless knew of my creative ambition and interest in learning and awarded me a mark of 100%! That wasn’t the only way he encouraged his students, but it thrilled him to see his students joining him in the deep personal reward and pleasure of musical creation at whatever level they happened to find themselves.
As a composer himself Dr. Turner was modest to a fault, and though that sort of modesty was a model for all of us to follow, I regret now that he wasn’t a little more self-promoting. Every piece of his I have ever heard then or since is grounded in the best of international musical traditions (he was extremely knowledgeable about music throughout its history, but especially in the 20th century) yet had a fresh, distinctive and easily discernible integrity of its own.
Since leaving his classroom I have become more aware of his outstanding creative accomplishments in the form of his masterful folk song settings, his recently released CD of choral music (Canto Amoroso, Canzona Chamber Choir, Henry Engbrecht, conductor), an unproduced opera (Vile Shadows), etc. But how I wish I had known more of his work when I was studying with him. However, the good thing about such a prolific and gifted man is that his creative legacy will live on forever – as fresh, vibrant and accessible as the day it was written. I will always remember him fondly and with gratitude for the generosity he showed to so many. Certainly the most rewarding moments I have had in my career have been those connected with my most interesting creative projects, and he knew even more so than I did myself at the time I studied with him that composing was going to be an important part of my own musical life.
Visiting Associate Professor, Head Coach of Voice and Opera at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY. (2012)