The music never stopped

The year was 1972. The first Pong video game was released by Atari. Canadian hockey legend Paul Henderson scored his epic game-winning goal against…

The year was 1972.

The first Pong video game was released by Atari.

Canadian hockey legend Paul Henderson scored his epic game-winning goal against the Soviet Union.

Apollo 17, the fourth and final mission to the moon, lifted off from Cape Canaveral.

A 21-year-old Anne Turner was teaching her first band class.

“I was often mistaken for a student at that time,” she said.

Now, after 25 years, hundreds of students and one Juno award, it’s time for the Vanier Catholic Secondary music instructor to put the baton down.

“There’s never a good or an easy time to leave a music program,” said Turner.

“My students here can’t believe I’m leaving them.”

It’s better for people to feel sad about the departure rather than relieved, she joked.

The walls of her band room are lined with posters commemorating past band functions and trips: a three-hour performance at the Festival of Trees, a Habitat for Humanity fundraiser, performances at Arts in the Park.

Some students remember the band’s 2005 trip to Cuba.

A tradition of excellent music is Turner’s most prominent legacy at Vanier.

Dozens of near-professional quality high school bands have passed under Turner’s stellar tutelage, and she has the awards to prove it.

At the 2006 Lionel Hampton jazz festival in Idaho, a contingent of Turner’s band beat out 24 other bands to win their category.

In 2000, Turner secured a $10,000 MusiCan grant for the Vanier music program.

And then there’s the Juno.

“The first and only red Juno,” she said.

The second-ever presentation of the MusiCan teacher-of-the-year award, the Juno was given to Turner two years ago at a special Toronto ceremony by Canadian crooner Michael Buble.

Buble also helped finance the dual $10,000 cheques that came with the award, one for Turner and the other for the Vanier music program.

Never a Buble fan before (“he’s a little more ‘pop-y’ than what I usually listen to”) Turner laughed that she has felt somewhat compelled to buy some of his albums in the wake of their meeting.

In the band room she pointed out some shiny new microphones, amplifiers and flutes. Just a few of her recent “Buble” purchases.

Over her career, Turner has seen firsthand the development of jazz programs within Canadian schools, programs that would eventually spawn such Canadian jazz greats as Nanaimo’s Diana Krall.

During Turner’s teaching years, the tide of high school music changed, and generational shifts outside the classroom moved students away from the bounds of standard classical theory.

Especially in Edmonton.

In 1971, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, for whom Turner was often playing on contract, recorded a record-selling rock album with the British group Procol Harum.

As a young teacher in Edmonton, Turner supposes that she taught one of the first school jazz bands.

The genre has been a career-long conversion for Turner, who was originally trained as a classical violist.

“Even though I had that very strong classical background, (rock ‘n’ roll) was what I was really into at the time, so with teaching, the jazz band certainly opened things up a lot more than the traditional concert band.”

 “My real love, my real strength has been jazz; for me, music is so much more creative when you start to improvise.”

For four years in the mid-‘90s, Turner took leave from Vanier to pursue jazz studies at Nanaimo’s Malaspina College.

She’s now become a fixture of the Whitehorse jazz scene, doing occasional gigs on her upright bass.

Turner’s close association with Whitehorse’s Jazz on the Wing program has allowed her students to learn firsthand from a number of prominent visiting jazz musicians.

New York pianist Bill Mays, saxophonist John Paulson, Vancouver saxophonist Ross Taggart, trombonist Hugh Fraser, and the Netherlands-based pianist Amina Figarova have been just a few of the welcome “guests” to Turner’s band room.

Turner has even introduced the computer into her program.

Students in her “rock and tech” class learn computer composition and some of the basics of digital recording technology.

It’s all been part of concerted career-long efforts to get her students to “make the music their own.”

“The goal is always to get ‘them’ to engage in the music. It’s magical. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does then you know that they’re getting it,” she said.

Music will always continue to be an important fixture in high school education, she said.

 “Unlike a lot of other things that happen in school, in here you need everybody aspiring to play at 100 per cent. If you have 60 per cent of the notes right, the band’s not going to sound so good.”

“In here we get a really nice opportunity to let kids take good risks.”

She cited a statistic from Harvard Medical School that many of the school’s top graduating doctors had undergraduate degrees in music.

Adjusting to days beyond classroom teaching will no doubt be difficult, but Turner looks forward to playing music unconstrained by the “little blocks of time” in the high school schedule.

Turner’s last-ever school band concert will be held at the Yukon Arts Centre on Wednesday, May 28th at 7 p.m.