Bio & Photos
Rob Howard is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, conductor, teacher and, ultimately, a bassoonist. He studied music at the RNCM Junior School and Birmingham University (1995-98) and then undertook a Composition PhD at Goldsmiths College, London (1998-2003), whilst being a Concert Steward at the Royal Albert Hall.
Rob then returned home to Merseyside, taking a PGCE in Secondary Music at Edge Hill University. In 2007 he became Director of Music at Deyes High School, Maghull, which was renowned across the region for its musical excellence, touring New York, Paris, Rome and London. In 2008 the Deyes Gospel Voices reached the final of BBC TV’s Last Choir Standing. Rob is currently Assistant Head of Music Faculty (Head of Orchestral Music) at St Edward’s College, Liverpool, which, as the choir school to Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, has a strong music tradition.
Rob continues to compose. In 2007, his four-movement Festival Suite was commissioned by Knowsley Performing Arts. Rob regularly composes for schools and especially for the annual 10-day Prescot Festival of Music & the Arts, which he founded in 2005 (see column, right). The festival was part of Liverpool’s Capital of Culture schedule in 2008, and Rob completed a Choral Evensong setting for the 2011 Festival. The 2013 festival saw audiences of over 1,300 and featured a Come-&-Sing choir of exactly 100 singers.
Rob also enjoys conducting two amateur orchestras on Merseyside (Phoenix Concert Orchestra and South Liverpool Orchestra), as well as playing bassoon and violin in several semi-professional orchestras.
Bio in Full
Robert Andrew Howard was born in Widnes, Cheshire, in 1977, and grew up in the traditional Lancashire town of Prescot, Merseyside.
The son of a proud trade unionist, Robert grew up with a strong sense of community, responsibility and concern for the welfare of others, and this heritage informs the work he does today.
School & University
He attended Evelyn Avenue Primary School and then Prescot Comprehensive School, becoming proficient in an array of musical instruments along the way – chiefly violin, piano and bassoon. During his teenage years, Robert played with the local Knowsley Youth Orchestra, the Wirral Youth Orchestra and the esteemed Merseyside Youth Orchestra, based at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. Robert then obtained a place at the Royal Northern College of Music Junior College (Saturday School), from 1992 to 1993. Alongside performing, he developed a keen interest in composition. It was unsurprising that after taking his A-levels at Knowsley Community College in Huyton, he went to Birmingham University and then Goldsmiths College, London, to study music and composition, eventually earning his doctorate.
It was during those years that he established a reputation for himself as an exciting new composer and musical talent. Drawing inspiration from neo-classicism, minimalism and the twentieth-century tradition of British music represented by Vaughan-Williams, Walton and Arnold, among others, Robert collected a number of awards for his impressive compositions, including the Gregynog Young Composers Award of Wales as well as several prizes for his numerous piano works. (See next column for more about Robert’s time in London.)
Teaching: St Wilfrid’s, Deyes High & St Edward’s College
After several years teaching, performing and composing in England’s heady, busy capital, Robert felt the call of the town that formed him, and he returned to Prescot in 2003. He gained a PGCE at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, and took up his first secondary teaching post at St Wilfrid’s Catholic High School, Bootle.
His steady rise through the ranks of education was such that after a few years he moved on to become Head of Music at Deyes High School, Maghull, where he looked after a thriving department known locally for its impressive mix of talent in all musical genres. Over 15 extra-curricular music clubs, 14 peripatetic teachers teaching over 100 students, and at least 10 concerts a year made it a lively centre of music.
Its students performed at the Rose Theatre in Edge Hill University to great acclaim. Annual events included the Carol Service, Electric (rock) Concert, Deyes High Talent Show, the hosting of Sefton borough’s singing competition Singposium, Jazz Night, Deyes High Concert Series, Arts Ball and Music Oscars Ceremony, and and concerts by Sefton Schools Music Service, Liverpool University Symphony Orchestra and Maghull Wind Orchestra, as well as a wealth of Christmas community performances.
During Rob’s tenure (2007-13), students at Deyes High could sit GCSE Music, A Level Music and A Level Music Technology, and the department enjoyed a 100-percent pass rate at GCSE. In 2009, all students gained A to C grades at GCSE, and Rob led the department to an outstanding standard in 2013. Throughout each year, the school’s musicians took part in regional festivals and competitions such as Bootle Young Musician of the Year, Southport WOW Factor, Crosby Festival, Southport Festival and the region finals of Music for Youth, as well as the Young Voices Concert at Manchester’s MEN Arena.
The 2008 production of Grease was a resounding success. The Wiz followed in 2010, Hairspray in 2011, and We Will Rock You, featuring the songs of Queen, in 2013. Most spectacularly, in 2008, Gospel Voices were selected to take part in the filming of BBC1′s Last Choir Standing. Between 2009 and 2012, the Music Department toured to New York, Paris, Rome and London.
In 2013, Rob took up a new challenge as Assistant Head of Music Faculty (Head of Orchestral Music) at St Edward’s College, Sandfield Park, Liverpool. St Edward’s has an exceptional musical tradition, being choir school to Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King since 1974.
Rob teaches across the school, at Key Stage 3, GCSE and A-Level, conducts three orchestras and oversees the extensive extra-curricular provision. Some students take GCSE a year early, and some are members of the Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and Choir, Royal Northern College of Music Junior College, and the National Youth Orchestra. Music is integral to school life, with live music performed by pupils in all formal assemblies and at weekly recitals on a Friday afternoon. Annual musical performances include the St Edward’s Mass and Founders’ Day Service (at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral), Remembrance Concert, Purple Evening, Carol Service (at St Mary’s West Derby), and Lent and Trinity term concerts. The musical Oliver! was performed in 2013, with a tour to Paris for the Senior Orchestra and Choir in 2014.
As well as teaching commitments, Rob is keen to maintain an interest in primary-school development, and he served as an LEA governor of his own former school, Evelyn in Prescot, Merseyside, until 2012. (See centre column for more about this.)
Rob is also Associate Tutor for the PGCE Music course at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk. He lectures trainee music teachers on Contemporary Music and Composition, 19th-century romanticism and nationalism, 20th-century mainstream , avant-garde and experimental music, serialism, minimalism and recent trends, as well as training in Sibelius software and advising on dealing with challenging classroom behaviour.
He maintains considerable interest in conducting and composing. He is conductor and musical director of the South Liverpool Orchestra at Liverpool Hope University, and assistant conductor of the Phoenix Concert Orchestra in Liverpool. From 2004 to 2006, he was MD for the Prescot and Whiston Methodist Players’ pantomimes, with combined annual audiences of over 1,000 in 2006. From 2007 to 2013, Rob regularly conducted Deyes High music ensembles in weekly rehearsals, concerts and competitive festivals, particularly with the Senior Orchestra, Wind Band, Year 7 Choir and Chamber Choir. At St Edward’s College, in his capacity as Head of Orchestral Music, he conducts three orchestras (Senior Orchestra of 40, a timetabled Chamber Orchestra of sixth-formers and a Junior Orchestra of 60). He also occasionally conducts the College’s Senior Choir and Consort and Flute Choir, as well as overseeing all extra-curricular provision.
As former Composer-/Arranger-in-
Alongside playing violin, viola, piano and percussion, as a freelance bassoonist Rob is regularly invited to play with amateur and semi-professional orchestras throughout the North West. Recent engagements have been with the Knowsley, Phoenix, Ormskirk, Warrington, Wigan, Neston Festival, Harlech Orchestra Course, Ellesmere Orchestra Course, Wirral, Wirral Symphony, Crosby Symphony, Liverpool University Symphony and Liverpool Mozart Orchestras, St Helens Sinfonietta, Fidelio Wind Ensemble, Orchestra Dell’Arte, Wirral Winds and the Priory Players Chamber Orchestra.
When time allows, Rob joins Cobwebs, the community orchestra of the Northern Sinfonia, which plays throughout Cumbria, County Durham and Northumbria. Robert frequently performs as a bassoon soloist, with a repertoire including concertos by Mozart and Weber, which he played with Port Sunlight Orchestra and Mensa Musicians’ Orchestra in 2009, and with the Harlech Summer School Orchestra in 2012. He also performed Vanhal’s Concerto for Two Bassoons with the Liverpool Mozart Orchestra in 2012. In 2013 he performed the Weber Bassoon Concerto with South Liverpool Orchestra, to great acclaim, and gave a highly successful 1-hour solo bassoon recital as part of the St. Helens Sinfonietta Concert Series.
In 2005, Robert founded the Prescot Festival of Music and the Arts, and is well-known in the local community for pioneering a year-round programme of arts and music in the town. He continues to perform, conduct and compose. (Scroll down to find out more about the Prescot Festival.)
His vision for community arts and music is informed not only by his father’s legacy, but by his strong Christian faith. Robert sings bass in the choir of Prescot Parish Church, where he also administers the chalice, and has served on a Shared Ministry Group and the Parochial Church Council.
Outside the musical sphere, Robert enjoys vintage British TV and film, and always finds time to tour the British countryside, usually sampling a real ale or two along the way. He is also a keen amateur artist and photographer, and has exhibited his work as part of the Knowsley Open Art Exhibition.
The following was written for Evelyn School Newsletter in 2005
I decided to become a governor at Evelyn for one very simple reason: because I enjoyed seven very happy years there as a pupil (not too many years ago!). This was back in the days when Mrs Arnold had a class of her own and there was a strict, but very good head teacher called Mrs Bamforth. Mrs Johnson was also there then, and I remember a fantastic dinner lady called Mrs Lomax. I made lots of friends at Evelyn and most of us went on to Prescot School together. I’ve kept in touch with lots of them and we often threaten to organise a reunion – but never quite get round to doing it!
My time at Evelyn in the 1980s is filled with great memories. The highlight was playing Grandpa Joe in the school production of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I had to learn lots of lines and dress up like an old man – but it was great fun and a video was made, which my mum keeps playing to everyone who visits her!
I can vividly remember lots of trips: to Lake Windermere (on the boat and steam train); the ballet in Manchester; the Water Works(!); Chester Zoo; and Haigh Hall. Also, we used to walk to the swimming baths at Maryville School each week (once one of my mates got a very sore head on the way there when he walked into a lamppost!) and we’d dress up for fancy dress competitions (I was Rupert the Bear!).
However, it was the free music lessons that really shaped what I do now as an adult. At Evelyn I started violin lessons, and then took up the bassoon and piano at Prescot School. I then started to write my own music and conduct. I realised that I had found something I really enjoyed and wanted to do. After studying at Roby College and Birmingham and London Universities, I decided to go into music teaching. I now do lots of different things in music. By day I teach in an 11-18 Liverpool high school where we have lots of after-school music clubs and perform in our own concerts and musicals. In the evenings I organise music events, festivals (including one in Prescot), play in orchestras and conduct. Sometimes I help out those who are training to teach and, of course, I like to keep an eye on my old primary school by being a governor. Governors are adults who are attached to the school in some way (parents, teachers, politicians, members of the community etc) who meet with the best interests of the school and its pupils at heart. They try to do all they can to keep high standards and to make things even better. Oh, and they drink tea and eat nice biscuits, too!
I recently found my old Evelyn School Prospectus, from Mrs Bamforth’s days (1981!). It opens with a quote from a lady who first had the idea of nursery schools in this country (Rachel MacMillan). She said…
…teach each and every child as if he or she were your own.
That standard of individual care and attention is something that I try to give in my own teaching. It is also something that Evelyn has always done really well and continues to do today.
Dr Robert Howard
London – 1998-2003
Robert spent his five years in London studying Composition full-time to PhD level at Goldsmiths College, University of London. This was made possible with very generous support from Birmingham University, Prescot Parish Church and various trusts, including the Patrick Foster Memorial Fund. He studied with Philip Cashian and Sadie Harrison at Goldsmiths while having occasional tutorials with many other composers, including Stephen Montague, Anthony Payne, Diana Burrell, Michael Finnissy, David Matthews, Howard Skempton, Daryl Runswick, Joe Cutler, Hywel Davies and Roger Redgate.
Throughout this period, Robert developed his now-familiar compositional style. Essentially a ‘minaturist’, his concise works came to be characterised by his wide variety of artistic interests: minimalism, serialism, modern art (especially sculpture and stained glass), left-wing literature, 20th-century British music and amateur musicians. Robert successfully completed commissions from Contemporary Music-Making for Amateurs (COMA), Hampshire Music Service, Knowsley Youth Orchestra and oboist Maria Thomas, among others. His music has been regularly performed across London and beyond, on a monthly basis, by both amateur and professional performers, such as IXION, City of London Sinfonia, Northern Sinfonia, Concilium Brass Ensemble, Simon Limbrick, Stephen Gutman, Gemini and the Kreutzer Quartet. Incalcando (since disbanded), based at Goldsmiths College, published Robert’s work, several of which were shortlisted by SPNM for performance, and won major awards, such as the Gregynog Young Composers Award of Wales in 2000.
Throughout his time in London, Robert lectured in Composition and coordinated the Extension Degree (a one-year foundation course for overseas students) at Goldsmiths College. He also occasionally taught bassoon and worked part-time as a concerts steward at the Royal Albert Hall for five years. He continued to compose for, conduct and perform (on bassoon) with many amateur ensembles, including the Goldsmiths Sinfonia (touring Kuwait in 2001), Goldsmiths Contemporary Music Group, London Charity Orchestra, London Chamber Group, Birmingham University Symphony Orchestra, Morley College Chamber Orchestra, Kingston Chamber Orchestra, Brentwood Orchestra, Hampshire Youth Training Wind Band, Forum Sinfonietta, COMA London and National Ensembles, and Hampstead Music Club (featuring a highly successful wind quintet). He was a very active member of the Forum London Composers’ Group, becoming Chair of the organisation in 2001 (until 2003). This was a time of great change and progress for the group: a major publication was launched (ReSound Pack, featuring Rob’s Promenade IV); a formal link was forged with the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters; an amateur chamber orchestra was formed (Forum Sinfonietta); professional performers were hired for workshops and concerts (eg Fourth Dimension); and an annual New Music Festival was launched.
Prescot Festival of Music & the Arts
In 2005, Robert was asked to present a short series of concerts – just two or three, back to back – and it was from this that the Prescot Festival was born. By 2006 it had grown from three to four days, with a small fringe programme, and by 2007 it ran for 10 days.
A key factor in the founding of the Festival was the success of Liverpool’s bid to be the 2008 European Capital 0f Culture. A town with an impressive historical and artistic heritage going back centuries, Prescot was well-placed to contribute to the momentous occasion. Thus it was that in 2008, the Prescot Festival held an unprecedented programme of concerts and art events, bringing together an astounding assortment of local, regional, national and international artists, including Korean pianist Young-Choon Park, singer-songwriter John Smith and local orchestra the St. Helens Sinfonietta.
A regular feature of the Festival is a celebrity guest appearance. In 2007, actress Honor Blackman brought her one-woman show to Prescot, and in 2009 fans queued up around the block to see Peter Sallis, star of long-running BBC sitcom The Last of the Summer Wine. Festival Patron Professor Dr Ian Tracey has also given regular performances, and in 2010, the festival hosted the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, for the 400th anniversary of Prescot Parish Church.
The 2013 Festival saw record audiences of over 1,300 and featured a Come-&-Sing choir of exactly 100 singers. The annual Mayor of Prescot’s Charity Christmas Concert entertained over 400 in 2013.
As Artistic Director, Robert not only composes works especially for performance at the Festival, but commissions work from other composers. In 2010, he commissioned two new string quartets from local composers David Forshaw and Kevin George Brown, commemorating the 400th anniversary of Prescot Parish Church.
Central to the vision of the Festival is the desire to bring arts to everyone in the community. Its steady expansion has seen an increasingly diverse audience, both young and old, turn out to hear orchestras, bands, choirs, singers, instrumentalists and performers from both near and far.
The Prescot Festival’s success has inspired other local communities, including Halewood, Heswall, Maghull and Rainhill, to found their own festivals, often with Robert in an advisory capacity.
Receiving an award as a youngster in the Prescot Parish Church Choir
With members of the St. Helens Sinfonietta in St Helens United Reformed Church
Phoenix Concert Orchestra
Enjoying an afternoon with friends
With Cllr Joan Quillian, then Mayor of Knowsley, at Liverpool Cathedral
Conducting the Phoenix Concert Orchestra at Our Lady Immaculate and St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Prescot
Pause for thought outside the Methodist Church, Prescot
Rob in 2009
2014 Prescot Festival
Robert conducts the Phoenix Concert Orchestra at the 2014 Prescot Festival
Rob plays piano at Evelyn Community Primary School during the 2014 Prescot Festival
Outside the Maisons Satie, in Honfleur, in summer 2014