CARLA ARAGÓN'S BLOG

Uplifting the Spirit using my voice & talent.

TAKE 5 with CARLA ARAGÓN featuring Dr. BILLY TURNEY

Have you ever been moved to tears while listening to a musical performance?  That’s a common occurrence when you hear the celestial voices of the Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe. Perhaps because, according to Dr. Billy Turney, this inspirational music is based on prayer.

Turney founded the Schola Cantorum (Latin for school of singers) in 1990 to perform the masterpieces of the Roman Catholic Church– sacred music that includes Gregorian chant, music of the Renaissance masters, and contemporary sacred music.  Now in his 20th year, Turney has produced the group’s first CD “Echoes of Mary.”  Whether you are Catholic or not–it is truly a gift for the soul.

Turney’s interest in the this music was sparked when he was a young boy attending Vespers at the Loretto Chapel.  He went on to study music at the University of New Mexico and pursue graduate studies at the Vatican’s Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music.  Turney goes back to the Vatican almost every two years to learn more.  He also gives university lectures in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

One marvels at Turney’s amazing music career, but this isn’t even his day job!  Dr. Turney is an environmental engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory where he has worked on ways to decontaminate water and on soils that have been contaminated by cyanide and uranium.  Before that, he worked on water issues with the Office of the State Engineer.  It runs in the family.  His late father, William, was a civil engineer and his brother, Tom, was the State Water Engineer.  Music also runs in the family.  Turney’s niece, Kathryn Morrison, sings with the Schola Cantorum as does his sweetheart, Lucinda Sydow.

When Billy isn’t putting in countless hours of practice with the Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe and at LANL, he’s exploring the beauty of New Mexico through his award-winning photography.  He was also a college soccer player and stays fit by hiking the majestic mountains of New Mexico and Colorado.  The community of Santa Fe is fortunate to have a native son who shares his many talents.

1. Carla:  How did you get started in music?

Billy: “I started piano lessons with the good Sister Genevra at Loretto Academy when I was about five years old.  My dream was to one day be the organist at Saint Francis Cathedral.  You have to be careful what you wish for, because when I turned eighteen I was offered a job as a sub-organist at the Cathedral.  Before I knew it, I was principal organist and Director of Music.  Along the way, I learned the accordion which I played for the alabados sung in the processions honoring La Conquistadora.”

2.  Carla:  Why do you think the songs performed by the Schola Cantorum touch a person’s soul?

Billy: “The Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe is considered Santa Fe’s ‘sacred music’ ensemble and sets itself apart from other choral ensembles in what St. Augustine describes as ‘not just singing, but giving great care to what is being sung.’  The Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe regards sacred music as the echoes of twenty centuries of prayer of the Church.  And thus people’s souls are touched by the scriptures that have been magnified by the music masters – Palestrina, Victoria and Byrd to name a few.  For the first dozen years, the Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe sang a weekly Mass at the Cathedral and gave three concerts a year.  Upon my retirement from the Cathedral after 25 years of music ministry, new doors were opened.  Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe now performs more than a dozen free sacred music concerts throughout New Mexico and Colorado.”

3.  Carla: You recorded the “Echoes of Mary” in the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  What role did the Virgin Mary play in the taping of the CD?

Billy: “This CD was four years in the making and during that journey, I seemed to encounter Mary quite often… the most memorable, during Mass at Lourdes, France presided by Pueblo, CO Bishop Tafoya.  As I stood near the altar in the grotto– and on the very same earth St. Bernadette knelt on as the Virgin Mary appeared to her– I sang the sacred chants of the Church’s Mass.  I looked up at the same spot a few feet away where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette, and I finally admitted to myself that Mary was very much in communication with me.  And in case I didn’t fully understand the Virgin Mary’s message that day– for the next two days during my visit at Lourdes, strangers would say to me ‘you’re the fellow who was leading the chants at Mass yesterday – do you know how blest your are?’   Recording ‘Echoes of Mary’ in the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with the facsimile of Juan Diego’s tilma with the Virgin Mary emblazoned upon it looking down upon me, seems to be one more blessed part of my journey with the Virgin Mary.”

4.  Carla:  (Dr. Turney’s interest in engineering began when he tagged along with his father who went to job sites involving water well drilling.) What is your biggest concern about water?

Billy: “Today I work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the environmental arena and dedicate much of my work to the quality of water that we drink and use.  My volunteer work in Guatemala was very rewarding as I was a part of the successful solutions of bringing potable water to the citizens of the high mountains of Guatemala.  My greatest concern remains to be the quality of our water.  Support of our science and technology institutions will continue to bring us the best defense of our waters.”

5. Carla: Most people are either right or left brain dominant.  You are a scientist and an artist.  How do you explain the gift of both?

Billy: “I studied both engineering and music at UNM.  The discipline of following the notes on the manuscript or the instructions of the blueprint gave way to the precision construction required to make the beautiful music that touched people lives– whether it be water flowing from a tap or the music that led one to believe.  Physics taught me how to design a pipe organ and Sister Genevra taught me how to keep musical time by counting.  For me, music and engineering fit perfectly together – somehow my right and left braincommunicate with each other and act together as one.”


Author’s note:  “Echoes of Mary” is currently available at the Santuario de Guadalupe gift shop and at Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe concerts.  More information is available at the Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe website www.schola-sf.org


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February 3, 2010 - Posted by | Billy Turney, Santa Fe Hometown News |

2 Comments »

  1. You're a sly one, aren't you! Mil Gracias venersborg!

    Comment by Carla Aragón | February 3, 2010 | Reply

  2. Hi Carla,I just LOVE your blog! Can't wait to read your next "Take Five" article in the Santa Fe Hometown News.You know who. 😉

    Comment by Venersborg | February 3, 2010 | Reply


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