Short Biography | Full Biography
Robert Andrew Howard was born in Widnes, in 1977, and grew up in the traditional Lancashire town of Prescot, Merseyside.
The son of a proud trade unionist, he developed a strong sense of community, responsibility and concern for the welfare of others, and this heritage informs the work he does today.
School & University Years
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 childhood, Rob undertook many hobbies and interests, not all musical, including ice skating (1985-88, becoming Welsh Under Prelim Skating Champion for 1987-88 at Deeside) and attending Knowsley Training Orchestra (1986-88 under Ted Kirk, leading in 1987-88), Knowsley Youth Orchestra (1988-89 on violin and then on bassoon), Wirral Youth Orchestra, Merseyside Youth Orchestra (later Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Orchestra), 2nd St Helens Cub Scouts at St James’s Church Eccleston Park (1985-88), Prescot Swimming Club, Prescot Methodist Boys’ Brigade (1988-92), Prescot Gospel Hall Sunday School and, of course, Prescot Parish Church Choir.
During his teenage years, Robert continued playing with local youth orchestras, and 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 (turning down a place at St John’s College, Cambridge) 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, 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.
Robert spent his five years in London studying Composition full-time to PhD level at Goldsmiths College, University of London (MPhil upgraded to PhD). This was made possible with very generous support from Birmingham University (Barber Scholarship and Cunningham Award), 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 was regularly performed across London and beyond, 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. Also in 2000, Rob’s large orchestral work Promenade won the Goldsmiths Composition Competition.
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 from 2001 to 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.
Teaching: St Wilfrid’s, Deyes High, St Edward’s College & more
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, training at Formby High School and performing the then-new schools’ edition of Les Miserables, and took up his first secondary teaching post at St Wilfrid’s Catholic High School, Bootle, while developing his composing and conducting interests. During this time, the school gave successful performances of the musicals Oliver! and Grease.
His steady rise through the ranks of education was such that after three years he moved on to become Director of Music at Deyes High School, Maghull, where he presided over 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 instrumentalists, and at least 10 concerts a year made it a lively centre of music.
Deyes 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, Music Oscars Ceremony, and concerts given 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 regional finals of Music for Youth, as well as the Young Voices Concert at Manchester’s MEN Arena. As well as teaching music at Key Stage 3, 4 and 5, Rob developed liaison with feeder primary schools through music. He was also an A-level extended project tutor and supervisor, and taught General Studies.
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, the Deyes 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. In 2020-21 Rob became Acting Head of Music Faculty at St. Edward’s. He successfully maintained and further developed the college’s high musical standards, even during the Covid pandemic, largely due to effective remote/video teaching, both in the music classroom and by peripatetic music staff.
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 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 Masses, and at weekly recitals on a Friday afternoon. Annual musical performances include the St Edward’s Mass and Founders’ Day Service (both at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral), Remembrance Concert, Carol Service (at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral), and Year 13 and Summer Concerts. The musical Oliver! was performed in 2013, Beauty and the Beast in 2014, Little Shop of Horrors in 2015, My Fair Lady in 2017 and Half a Sixpence in 2018, with a tour to Paris for the Senior Orchestra and Choir in 2014, and London in 2016. In 2017 he prepared and led the Children’s Orchestra in a massed performance of Benjamin Britten’s Noyes Fludde at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.
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. He has taught music in a primary liaison capacity in his previous high schools, and at Runnymede St Edwards from 2015 to 2020.
Rob has been Associate Tutor for the PGCE Music course at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk. He lectured 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. Rob has mentored Edge Hill PGCE Music trainees in the classroom throughout his teaching at Deyes High and St Edward’s College.
Outside the Classroom
As part of a portfolio career, Robert has maintained considerable interest in conducting and composing. He is conductor and musical director of the South Liverpool Orchestra and assistant conductor of the Phoenix Concert Orchestra in Liverpool. With Director Jill Hyde, Rob has conducted PCO in successful foreign tours to Italy (Elba, 2008), Spain (Madrid, 2010), France twice (Nantes, 2013 and 2016) and Scotland (2018). He is also Associate Director of Prescot Parish Church Choir and has been a guest conductor for the Liverpool Mozart Orchestra. 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 50, a timetabled Chamber Orchestra of sixth-formers and a Junior Orchestra of 70). He also occasionally conducts the College’s Senior Choir and Consort, Junior Choir, and Flute Choir, as well as overseeing all Music Faculty extra-curricular provision, SEN and Initial Teacher Trainees. From 2015 to 2017 Rob very successfully directed the Runnymede St Edwards Orchestra.
As former Composer-/Arranger-in-Residence for the Knowsley Orchestra, he composed and conducted his Wesleyan Overture (2004), Festive Fanfare (2005) and Festival Suite (2006-7). Meanwhile, since joining COMA Northwest (Contemporary Music-Making for Amateurs) on his return to Merseyside in 2003, he composed and enjoyed multiple successful performances of Carousel (2004), Three-Way Piece (2005), Fantasy on Anna’s Theme (2006) and Journey (2011).
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, Maghull Wind, Wirral Symphony, Crosby Symphony, Liverpool University Symphony and Liverpool Mozart Orchestras, St Helens Sinfonietta, Fidelio Wind Ensemble, Orchestra Dell’Arte, Wirral Winds, the Priory Players Chamber Orchestra, Chester Philharmonic Orchestra, Port Sunlight Choral Society Orchestra, Liverpool Bach Collective and Uppingham Summer School 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 twice 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. Rob successfully performed Elgar’s Romance with South Liverpool Orchestra in 2016 and Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in 2019.
Robert is Associate Director of Prescot Parish Church Choir, in which he also sings bass. In the church he has also administered the chalice and served on a Shared Ministry Group and the Parochial Church Council. Outside the musical and church sphere, Robert enjoys vintage British TV and film, and always finds time to tour the British countryside, usually sampling a real ale or two, or a tea shop, 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.
Prescot Festival of Music & the Arts
Following the sudden death of his father, Rob organised his first musical evening in Prescot Parish Meeting Room to raise funds for Cancer Research, in 1998. Such was its success that this created the idea for regular Prescot concerts. Then, following Rob’s experience in organising the Summer Festival of Music when at Birmingham University and in stewarding for the BBC Proms in London, the seeds were sown for a ‘Prescot Festival’. Indeed, visiting other music and arts festivals around the UK has always been a very enjoyable pastime for Robert.
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. He is now well-known in the local community for pioneering a year-round programme of arts and music in the town. Rob’s vision for community arts and music is informed not only by his father’s legacy, but by his strong Christian faith, and his determination to improve the prospects of his ‘home’ town.
By 2006 the festival had grown from three to four days, with a small fringe programme, and by 2007 it ran for 10 days, as it has done ever since.
A key factor in the founding of the festival was the success of Liverpool’s bid to be the 2008 European Capital of Culture, announced in 2003. 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 festival has also provided a platform for future ‘stars’, early in their careers, such as sopranos Kathryn Rudge and Laura Sheerin, and brothers Richard and Adam Johnson of Britain’s Got Talent fame.
The festival regularly welcomes over 1,600 people and features the Prescot Festival Chorus, a Come & Sing choir of about 100 singers. The annual Mayor of Prescot’s Charity Christmas Concert’s entertains over 400 people each year. As Artistic Director of the Prescot Festival, 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, Pemberton (Wigan), and Rainhill, to found their own festivals, often with Robert in an advisory capacity.
The festival was named Knowsley Cultural Group of the Year for 2015/16 and Prescot Town Council’s Community Group of the Year for 2017 (the award’s first ever year). In 2016 Robert received the Exceptional Service Award from the British Arts Festivals Association (BAFA). In 2017 the festival was named Cultural Organisation of the Year at the Knowsley Sports and Culture Awards, where Rob personally received the Cultural Volunteer of the Year award as the festival’s Artistic Director.
In 2019, the festival broke a new record, attracting over 1,700 for the first time. The occasion marked the 15th anniversary of the event.
Rob and the festival team rose to the considerable practical challenges posed by the Covid pandemic. The 2020 festival ran exclusively online, featuring a record number of entries in the Short Story Competition, as well as a range of nostalgic YouTube clips of previous festival performers. Then, in 2021 the 17th Prescot Festival successfully returned to its typical 10-day format, using a ‘hybrid’ schedule that combined in-person services and self-guided walks, with a wide range of online arts events. This featured a particularly popular talk from the team behind Prescot’s new Shakespeare North Playhouse theatre.
Further information can be found at www.prescotfestival.co.uk