Philharmonic leader guides group through challenges

Music runs through Barry Turner’s blood.

His late father and business partner, Morris Turner, sang most of his life in barbershop quartets and the church choir. A sister, Sandra Brenda, majored in performance piano at Indiana University. A younger brother, Curtis, was in an East Coast rock band.

Barry Turner’s own connection to music started with piano lessons as a Columbus 6-year-old.

While in high school, Turner tickled the keys in the background as members dined at Harrison Lake Country Club. But while the arts would continue to be an interest, Turner chose a professional path in engineering – a decision that has served him well.

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Until August, the owner of Turner’s Machining Specialties will preside over the 25-member Columbus Indiana Philharmonic board of directors. That two-year assignment connected him to a particularly exceptional piano and one of the biggest endeavors of the musical organization’s 33-year history: a new performance hall.

By the time Turner rose to Philharmonic board president in 2018, the organization had already received a top-quality, handcrafted Shigeru Kawai Concert Series Grand Piano. The donation from global manufacturer Enkei America has been used by musicians and guest artists since its 2016 arrival.

Philharmonic leaders felt the organization and community would be best served if it had a performance venue to match the instrument’s quality as a permanent home. That started the conversation of creating a flexible space that could be used as a recital hall for piano students and visiting artists – and as a venue to hold community theater and serve as a 100-person meeting room with state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems.

Two years later, the $2.5 million Helen Haddad Hall has been completed on Turner’s watch — complete with its 88-key centerpiece feature, the Shigeru Kawai piano.

At the board’s request, Turner stayed on a second year as president to see through the performance center project, which started with a $1 million pledge by Philharmonic patrons Bob and Helen Haddad, designed with input from potential users in the community.

His final months as board president will be spent navigating additional impacts of COVID-19.

That includes completing details for the 2020-2021 Philharmonic season scheduled to begin in September – unless health guidelines disrupt plans.

The pandemic caused cancellation of indoor Philharmonic concerts in March and April, the annual outdoor SALUTE! concert in May and a planned “Wisked Away” fall fundraising food event that could have added $40,000 to $50,000 in program revenue.

“We’ve been pretty busy to keep things on track and be staged for when things open up,” Turner said.

As large events return during continued calls for social distancing, the Philharmonic has been exploring the idea of kicking off its season with a Sept. 19 outdoor concert – perhaps at the Mill Race Park Ampitheatre or at one of the local high school football fields, ideas so fresh that the local school district hasn’t even been approached yet.

Such outdoor events have been planned by other orchestras – and the Philharmonic is not taking anything for granted.

However, the only practical way for the Philharmonic to hold indoor concerts at its home base, the 1,021-seat Judson Erne Auditorium inside Columbus North High School, is with side-by-side theater seating. Occupying every other seat to keep concert patrons apart won’t work given the auditorium’s fixed-placement seats and the volume of ticket sales needed to make concerts financially viable, Turner said.

In the most optimistic scenario, a coronavirus vaccine could be ready by the middle of the Philharmonic season.

Until a vaccine is available, taking temperatures of audience members as they enter is one possible step to prevent spread of the virus. Another would be excusing the crowd one row at a time at concert’s end, he said.

“We want to protect the people enjoying the show, but also the performers and musicians,” Turner said.

It is not practical to move Philharmonic concerts to The Commons, which offers table seating and an audience capacity of 400 for the organization’s Cabaret at The Commons series that opens Sept. 10, Turner said.

He pledges that the organization will follow the governor’s Back on Track Indiana guidelines, and monitor research on ways to resume holding large public events.

There’s been no stop in activity between the time Philharmonic staff began working from home in March and the mid-June return to their renovated offices — the organization’s three-story home since 2003 — at 315 Franklin St.

They have been unpacking boxes with three decades of records while also processing season ticket renewal orders from 212 of last year’s 340 full-series patrons committing to keep their seating locations.

The staff has soldiered on with one vacant position, operations director, under the direction of a one-year interim executive director – with searches now underway to fill both spots.

Former board member “Tracy Haddad has done a great job stepping in and keeping things moving,” Turner said.

Having lost revenue from canceled concerts, the organization sought and received federal government financial assistance for two and one-half months worth of payroll costs and musician expenses.

Besides focusing on current challenges, board members are also looking to the future.

They will unveil a new Philharmonic logo in a rebranding campaign in the fall – while treading gently on fundraising, recognizing that the pandemic has had financial implications for patrons, Turner said.

When a new board president steps in next month, Turner will serve as past president for a year before ending his hands-on service to the Philharmonic. But that won’t silence the artistic rhythm in his soul.

“I’ll always have music in my life,” Turner said.

Even if it’s just the ’70s classic rock on satellite radio that he picks up in his pickup truck.

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Age: 60

Residence: Tipton Lakes, Columbus

Occupation: President and owner, Turner’s Machining Specialties, 820 Repp Drive, founded by his late father Morris in 1977. Barry joined as president and co-owner in 1988 and has been sole owner since 2001. At the start it was just Turner and his father in the family basement, but the company has grown to 24 employees.

Education: Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University, 1982.

Family: Married 18 years to Donna Turner, owner and CEO of Lifecycle Specialties manufacturing company; son Alex, production manager for Turner’s Machining Specialties; daughter Megan Hall, operations manager for Lifecycle Specialties.

Community involvement: Columbus Indiana Philharmonic board of directors, seven years; Columbus City Utilities Board, 25 years.

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Retired editor Tom Jekel writes a weekly column that appears each Sunday on The Republic’s Opinion page. Contact him by email through [email protected]