By Lauren Vogel Weiss
Ian Turnbull, winner of the first PAS Outstanding Chapter President’s award in 1991 for his leadership in Ontario, Canada, passed away on May 26, 2023 at the age of 92. As his obituary in the London Free Press stated, “Music was his life.”
Turnbull was born in Worcester, England on November 6, 1930 to parents of Scottish descent. He joined the British Army Band as a “Boy Entrant” at the age of 15, serving in Europe, the Far East, and the Caribbean until 1957. The following year, Turnbull emigrated to Canada, where he joined the Band of Her Majesty’s Canadian Guards and attained the rank of Principal Percussionist. In 1963, he transferred to the Band of the Royal Canadian Regiment where he served for seven years before transferring to the (then) National Band of the Canadian Forces in 1970. After three decades of service, Turnbull retired from the military in 1976.
While serving with the Band of the Royal Canadian Regiment (1963–70), Turnbull was also the Principal Percussionist with the London (Ontario) Symphony Orchestra. “We were renamed the Orchestra London Canada after some confusion with the ‘other’ orchestra of the same name!” he explained during a 2006 interview. “In 1964, I established the percussion department at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and served on the Faculty of Music.” He held that position until 1970.
Following his military retirement, Turnbull managed the Belle Air Music Company in London from 1977 until 1995. Upon his “second retirement,” Belle Air Music established the annual Ian Turnbull Award for percussionists at UWO. He was also named to the Mayor of London’s New Year’s Honors List in 1988 for promoting music in the region.
Turnbull became the founding president of the Ontario PAS Chapter in 1980. (Prior to that, there had been one chapter representing all of Canada. Ontario was the first province to establish its own chapter.) He organized the first OPAS Day of Percussion held at UWO in London in April 1981. A decade later, Turnbull presided over the Tenth Anniversary of the Ontario Chapter with a three-day “Celebration of Drums” at UWO. He also served 14 years on the PAS Board of Directors (1986–93 and 1996–2001). Turnbull received the Outstanding PAS Service Award at PASIC 2001 in Nashville for his significant contributions to the society.
Turnbull was instrumental in creating the Sabian/PASIC Scholarship, which enables a Canadian percussion major to attend the annual international percussion convention, and he administered the scholarship for over 27 years. In 2005, Turnbull received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Sabian.
“One of the first smiling, welcoming faces that greeted me during my first PASIC experience in 1985 was that of Ian Turnbull,” remembers world-renowned solo percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie. “Although the conference focused on all things percussive, Ian showed the true essence of such an event — making solid connections, friends, and memories that lasted a lifetime. Ian was a great listener, and within the high energy and clamor of such a conference, his pleasant and kind demeanor softened any sound tsunami. Ian was much loved by so many, and I, for one, feel very grateful for the special memories he created in my life.”
Ian Turnbull was predeceased in 1995 by his first wife, Eve, and is survived by his second wife, Joan Hysen Turnbull.
Author’s note: I first met Ian through the PAS Chapter Presidents meeting at PASIC. He taught me so many things about being a chapter president, from organizing events to dealing with percussionists on all levels. I was honored to succeed him as the second recipient of the Outstanding Chapter President award and always tried to abide by the high standards that he established. But most of all, it was a privilege to call him a friend for over thirty years.