Imagine crouching at the keyboard for six months, scribbling in a treble clef here, tinkering with a melody there, laboring over every last note until your musical score is finally complete.
Then imagine that music never gets played. Such is the solitary life of the composer, who too often toils in obscurity.
A new award aims to change that. The Marshall Turkin Honors Award will recognize the quiet but significant achievements of composition students in Lynn’s Conservatory of Music.
Established by local musician and composer Marshall Turkin, the award will be presented for the first time this spring to honor one composition student’s body of work.
“The reason is simple: I know how important a pat on the back is when you’re that young and off in a room all alone working hard on a piece of music,” Turkin said. “I was a composition major 70 years ago. Any pat on the back—especially an economic pat on the back—and the chance to have your piece performed and favorably received by an audience, every composer needs that encouragement.”
“Composing again has reignited my identity and my spirit. And it has led me to honor these young composers. Like me, like anyone, they need encouragement.”
Marshall Turkin, musician and composer
“Because everyone is on scholarship, we limit the number of students,” said Dr. Thomas McKinley, director of the program. “And, because they’re not on stage performing, composition students are not quite as visible as students from the piano or drum studios. This award will bring recognition to our composers for their exceptional talent.”
Matthew Carlton, a second-year master’s degree student, said composers can feel like the ghosts of the conservatory.
“It’s easy to forget about us,” he said. “But all of the studios are interdependent. You can’t have an orchestra without flute, and you can’t play flute without notes. Music doesn’t just appear out of the ether. It’s created by a composer. I’m glad this award will raise awareness about what we do.”
Creating new music in the very old tradition of classical music is no small challenge.
“Forgetting Mozart, Bach and Beethoven,” said senior Alfredo Cabrera, “is the same as saying Shakespeare is obsolete. We wouldn’t have pop or jazz or rap if we didn’t have Mozart first.”
Cabrera’s “Caracas: A Symphonic Poem to the Idea of a City” won the Lynn Composition Competition last spring.
“It is about freedom, about me, about where I come from,” he said. “I couldn’t have done this any other place but Lynn.”
Turkin understands that creative drive for self-expression. Growing up in Kansas City, he loved his instrumental lessons so much, he was inspired to write music.
“Even before starting college, I knew I wanted to be a composer,” he said.
He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music composition from Northwestern University, served as music arranger for the U.S. Navy during World War II and saw his music performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra and others.
“The family responsibilities of fatherhood led me to working in arts administration,” he said. “In my 30s, I quit composing and became an executive for music festivals.”
He served as executive director of the Pittsburgh and Detroit Symphony Orchestras, Chicago Symphony’s Ravinia Festival and the Cleveland Orchestra’s Blossom Music Festival.
“And that was enough creative satisfaction for me at the time,” he said. “My need to compose had just dissipated.”
Until, that is, in his mid-80s, when he heard a melody in his mind for weeks. It wouldn’t go away. He discovered an old score in his garage he composed 50 years earlier and was inspired—“felt the need”—to once again create new music.
“Composing again has reignited my identity and my spirit,” he said. “And it has led me to honor these young composers. Like me, like anyone, they need encouragement.”
Turkin, who hosts the Mostly Music Series at Lynn and stars in Live at Lynn’s American Songbook Series, said he is delighted his gift will honor conservatory students for more than a decade.
“It will go on encouraging young composers even after I’m gone,” he said.
Intrigued by new music?
Each January, the New Music Festival features
a master class by a famous composer.
Each spring, the Lynn Composition Competition takes place.
In the fall, that winning piece is given its world premiere by the Lynn Philharmonia.
Make your own gift to the Conservatory of Music: firstname.lastname@example.org, +1 561-237-7745