George Turnlund

George Turnlund, 29/10/1931-10/9/2010

(Some personal memories: apologies if any facts are wrong)


There's no doubt about it, George loved music. Just a few weeks before he died from cancer, and a few days before he entered hospital for the last time, he still came to our house to play quartets — even though he had to take frequent breaks to shuffle to the loo, and eventually was so exhausted he sat out the last movement, listening quietly and gently criticizing any parts that sounded 'forced'. He needed two of us to help get him back, inch by inch, to the friend's car which had brought him, and when we finally managed to manhandle him into the passenger seat, he commented that 'perhaps I shouldn't have come tonight'.

Yet he obviously enjoyed it, as he did our Wednesday playthroughs at Thanet Light Orchestra. Hardly the standard he would have been accustomed to as principal viola of the LSO, permanent member of the Haffner Quartet and a popular session musician (playing all around the world, for people such as Frank Sinatra)… yet no matter how many notes were fluffed, and whether we played Haydn, Hindemith or Cole Porter, George would simply say "It's wonderful music".

George first learned the violin from John Konrad at his conservatory in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He then attended the Royal Academy of Music, switching to viola after about a year. He remained with the LSO for 23 years, playing a fabulous instrument whose tone entranced all those who heard it — although it strangely never seemed to sing quite as richly when others played on it. He married a pianist (somewhat surprising, as he frequently said he thought the addition of a piano spoiled most chamber music), and their children were all talented musicians, performing in jazz ensembles, West End shows and the like.

We seldom saw George without his pipe, except the very last year. He was also a keen motorcyclist, finally pottering around on a little moped. He loved his food (woe betide the bride & groom who failed to provide the band with refreshments at any gig we did!), although the only beer he really enjoyed was the occasional Gold Label.

He was very much a working musician: keen to ensure people were paid for their work (although he did help out at Thanet music festival's instrumental section on a voluntary basis), and seldom doing much teaching, although occasionally local adults or children would come to him for lessons, and he would be quite patient and encouraging — in contrast with the 'brusque Canadian' image he often projected. He enjoyed watching young virtuosi (as well as the stars of his youth) on YouTube, and was tickled one day to find his own autograph up for sale online.

In Thanet at least, but I suspect much further afield too, he will be sorely missed. His memory lives on in the George Turnlund Memorial Fund.

Other links:
Obituary in Winnipeg Free Press
The Crescendo Music site reveals some of the other names George played with as a session musician: Barbara Dickson, Cliff Richard, Kate Bush, David Essex, Engelbert Humperdinck, Lulu, Petula Clark, Max Bygraves, Richard Bonynge, Rick Astley, Tom Jones…

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