Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Musician shares his gift with students

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WHEN Tom Prins asked friend Richard Turner to stop by his daughter's Grade 4 classroom at St. Ignatious School because students were asked to bring a famous person to school, Turner was flattered.

Sarah Prins proudly introduced the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra performer to her peers. Turner brought his harp to the school to play for students.

"A harp is best heard in an intimate setting," says Turner. "To really hear all the effects, to hear it up close gives kids an acquaintance with it."

It's not the first time Turner has been out to a school to share his love of music and his gift of performing. He fondly remembers being in a movie theatre one time when a nine-year-old boy from another school he had visited recognized him by name and was excited to see someone from the orchestra.

"It's always wonderful to see kids, their freshness, and the fact that they can still be inspired and intrigued by music," says Turner. "Something interesting always happens. Once a student called my harp peddles the clutch. There's always the unexpected."

He also cherishes the written thank-you notes he receives from young students. Sometimes the colourful notes include drawings of his harp.

Turner was invited to visit the River Heights school's Grade 4 Totally Unbelievable Speakers Club, which is a public speaking club. TUSC meets once a week for two consecutive class periods, with an invited guest when possible, says teacher Carol Noonan. Past guests have included a nutritionist, a woodcarver, and parents with various hobbies and jobs, but Turner is the first professional musician.

The club runs meetings, with students taking on a different role each week. Every student has the opportunity to make a short speech in their given role.

"This really brings out the shy kids, and helps all students to be able to speak comfortably in front of a group," says Noonan, adding that speaking is one of the important areas of focus (called strands) in the school's English Language Arts program. Others include reading, writing and listening.

With the WSO, Turner says he feels a strong connection to the community. For the past eight years, he has performed monthly free concerts with other members of the orchestra for cancer patients at Health Sciences Centre and St. Boniface Hospital.

"A gift is only worth something if you have the opportunity to share it," he says of his visits to schools and hospitals.

Turner was born and raised in Chicago. His father, Sol Turner, was a violinist with the Chicago Symphony and introduced his son to the harp.

"I heard all of the instruments, but the harp had an intriguing quality of sound," says Turner. "A great orchestra was part of my early education. I heard the harp in a solo capacity and it was very moving."

Turner studied at the famous Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He joined the WSO 26 years ago. The job is a demanding one. In Winnipeg, Brandon and rural Manitoba, he performs over 70 shows per season, including the New Music Festival, the WSO season, and with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

"I have played all the major repertoires," says Turner. "Coming back to The Nutcracker is like revisiting an old friend. An entire generation have heard me perform and people carry those memories with them."

Turner is also a sessional instructor at the University of Manitoba School of Music.

"I have developed roots and a connection with the people here," says Turner. "I work hard for the orchestra and we do lots of great performances. These are very challenging times for musicians. The expectations of performing artists are not limited to performing on the stage. The harp is a solo position and requires extra prep time. Festivals like the New Music Festival require lots of time and commitment."

For Turner, the opportunity to offer a short live concert to kids is a unique experience.

"This is a tangible, living experience for them," he says. "It's most direct and intimate, from my fingers to their ears. The experience is an invitation to their imaginations. To hear an acoustic instrument without amplification opens their minds to other possibilities. And that's what being an artist is all about. People can hear, remember and take a part of that with them."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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