One conversation turned my passion for music into a career
Deciding to follow a path others think is unusual takes courage. Chris Turnbull is a music leader at Sage Gateshead. As a teenager he studied in our Make Music: Young People programme. Although he excelled in music, people advised him to enter a career in science because it seemed the sensible option.
But Chris chose to listen to encouragement from an inspirational Make Music tutor, Royal Northern Sinfonia Trumpeter Marion Craig. He says her advice changed the course of his life.
“Music is for everyone,” Chris says. “Look at me; I wasn’t going to follow music, Marion started a conversation, and the rest is history.”
When he was ten, she came into his school, introduced him to the tenor horn, and then taught him until the end of year 11. By then, Chris had played in brass bands, and Marion thought he’d get a lot from Sage Gateshead’s Make Music programme.
“I wanted to continue my lessons with Marion,” he says. “I got a full bursary, meaning I could study a second instrument; I picked up the double bass. I enjoyed getting to grips with it; it’s one of my favourite moments from the programme.”
Entering a career in science seemed likely for Chris, but his heart wasn’t in it. Marion saw this. She set up a conversation with Owen Farr, a tenor horn tutor at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff (RWCMD).
“Owen asked why I wasn’t going into music,” says Chris. “Apart from my music teacher, my school told me to consider something different because music jobs are difficult to come by. Owen didn’t agree and told me to audition for the RWCMD.”
After four years of study and one year working as a teaching assistant in Wales, Chris applied for the In Harmony Newcastle Gateshead (a community-based orchestral music-making programme) brass tutor post at Sage Gateshead for five hours a week.
It was another sliding doors moment in his career.
“I got offered an apprenticeship to become a bike mechanic,” Chris says. “I considered joining the scheme, but thankfully my tuition hours kept building.”
Coming full circle, Chris now works for In Harmony and is a double bass teacher and music language tutor on the Make Music programme. He often thinks back on things he learned from Marion, passing them on to his own pupils.
“I take Marion’s positivity into my lessons,” he says. “She didn’t say, ‘that’s not good enough,’ she would say, ‘how can we approach it differently to make it sound better.’ She encouraged me to stick with the tenor horn and not try the more commonly played trumpet or trombone.”
Chris is passionate about changing young people’s lives by teaching them an instrument. He sees his role as not only developing musicians but people.
“Children in ensembles realise they are part of a team,” he says. “They are responsible for their instruments; they learn how to look after things.”
One of his goals is to encourage the young people he teaches to attend music college if that’s their ambition.
“I want to open their eyes to believe they can play music and know it’s for them, just like Marion did for me.”
Chris works hard to make his lessons fun, even teaching the computer theme tune, Tetris. He wants pupils to continue playing their instruments and enjoying music for the long-term.
“Music can give children hope and a ticket to other places,” he says. “Without Marion, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now.”