BACK TO GROUND
Just about every child has a go at it since, after all, it?s only a toy?isn?t it? Such common perceptions of the recorder are hardly surprising: walk into any primary classroom and you are bound to find, somewhere, a collection of sticky, gummed up plastic recorders that would have the Health and Safety Executive down on the school like a ton of bricks. Yet, although in years gone by it was a popular, virtuoso instrument, its decline has largely gone unnoticed by the musical public, that is until one meets John Turner who, during his professional career as a top performer, has been at the forefront of its revival.
John Woodford reports
I interviewed recorderist John Turner in his music room, an octagonal extension to his Manchester house that is topped by a wonderful weather vane folly, a fantasy that includes a viola da gamba, flying pegs, a recorder, and all sorts of other musical paraphernalia? ?I got it when I retired from the solicitors? practice?, he gleefully exclaimed. ?Don?t you think it sums me up?? It might, but I have to admit that the contents of the room below were a greater testament to a life that has been almost solely devoted to English music: rare books and manuscripts adorned the shelves and a matching display of art, much of which is connected with his passion, covers what little space remains. Before the interview, exploration was the name of the game??and have a look at this, an early copy of Orpheus Britannicus?and by the way,? he bubbles, ?have you seen this early Handel imprint??
Turner is Manchester born-and-raised and, apart from his student days, which were spent at Cambridge, he has lived his life there. ?My interest in music was enthused by my music master at school, Douglas Steele, who had been Beecham?s assistant at Covent Garden. He was a wonderful man and would get those who were interested to stay behind after classes to listen to music; it could have been Jan?cek, a pop song or whatever?as long as it was interesting.?
Although he studied the flute at the Northern School of Music?s junior department, on going up to Cambridge he read law, feeling that music would be little other than a hobby. He admits, however, that its pull was enormous: ?there were so many good musicians there at the time, Christopher Hogwood, John Eliot Gardiner, Andrew Davis, to name but a few. It was lectures in the morning, a couple of hours of work in the afternoon and the rest of the time was spent playing concerts!? But, above all, it was David Munrow who was to provide him with an opportunity that was to change the course of his life. Munrow was in his year and was looking around for a recorder player to partner: ?he was quite specific in his requirements and felt that someone who only played the recorder might not be a good enough musician and wanted someone who was versatile on another instrument.? Turner fitted the bill and started what was to become, for him, a lifetime?s devotion. He didn?t think that way at the time: ?Once I had qualified as a solicitor I thought, that?s it?there?ll be no more music for me. But one day Munrow rang me up and asked if I would be willing to play in Britten?s Alpine Suite at the Aldeburgh Festival. I did, and things didn?t stop after that. The second and third performances I did were at the Proms and the rest is history!?
He managed to juggle such musical commitments alongside his duties as a solicitor in the Manchester firm in which he was ultimately to become a senior partner. ?The firm did quite a lot of musical work, most of which tended to gravitate towards me ? we acted for the Hall?, the Royal Northern College of Music and many composers ? and through it I managed to get to know many musicians, most of whom I am still in contact with, despite no longer working for the firm.? Although more recently he rarely toured ? ?it?s a bit of a bore having to take a week off work to play a three minute obbligato on the recorder? ? he continued to do one-off performances and recordings.
Ref. Bridgewater Media/ Music Teachers Co. On-Line Journal /March 2001.