2021: A Look Back

As the year comes to an end, it’s worth taking a look back at Rob’s achievements since his last update in June.

In June, the Prescot Festival took place in hybrid form, with a delicate balance of in-person events and online arts and music. Church services, art displays, footage from the Liverpool Cathedral Festival of Music and a cultural tour of historic Prescot were all part of the 10-day programme.

In August, Rob was interviewed as part of the Prescot Makers and Players project, in association with Imaginarium Theatre and Knowsley Council. The resulting short film also features clips of Prescot Parish Church Choir, of which Rob is associate director, singing his choral work For Mary, Mother of Our Lord, under conductor David Kernick. The piece was written for the 2018 Patronal Festival at St Mary’s Prescot, and was sung again at this year’s patronal.

Watch Makers and Players, Chapter 10: The Composer and the Choirmaster below, and see more local artists and crafters on the main project page at imaginariumtheatre.co.uk.

September saw several performing groups resume after almost eighteen months. Rob returned to conducting Phoenix Concert Orchestra in rehearsing light music repertoire, giving monthly bassoon performances in Bach cantatas with the Liverpool Bach Collective, playing principal bassoon with Liverpool Mozart Orchestra and, of course, directing a variety of choirs, orchestras and live events at St Edward’s College, where he teaches.

Among these events have been the South Liverpool Orchestra’s 45th Anniversary Concert (also marking Rob’s 10th anniversary as conductor) on Tuesday 7 December at All Hallows’ Church, Allerton, Liverpool. The programme included music by Nicolai, Bizet, Carwithen, Bush, Sibelius and Anderson, as well as congregational carols. The orchestra also performed three movements (Procession, Folk Song and Dance) from Rob’s own Festival Suite, commissioned by Knowsley Performing Arts in 2007; and the first live performance of his solo piano miniature Arietta (1990, recently revised), to an audience of 150.

On Thursday 9 December, the Prescot Festival team held its first large-scale event since March 2020, with the Mayor of Prescot’s Charity Christmas Concert at Prescot Parish Church attracting an audience of about 235 and raising almost £250 for local good causes. Brassworks Quartet, Bluebell Park School Makaton Signing Choir and St Mary and St Paul’s CE Primary School Choir joined Prescot Parish Church Choir, who sang Robert’s 2017 meditation Alleluia (also sung twice on the First Sunday of Advent), with the composer at the piano and conductor David Kernick providing the opening and closing tenor solo. David also sang Rob’s setting of O Little Town of Bethlehem. Watch the videos below:

On Thursday 16 December, St Edward’s College held a successful Christmas concert, ‘Make It Magical,’ with Rob conducting the large-scale senior, chamber and junior orchestras, with massed choirs, choristers and soloists. Click here to watch the concert on the school’s official Facebook page.

Prescot Parish Choir, of which Rob is associate director, has been busy throughout Advent, with Sunday singing, Christmas services and a host of community events, including ecumenical ‘Carols around the Tree’ and visits to sing carols outside local care homes. Click here to watch Carols by Candlelight, Prescot Parish Church’s annual festival of lessons and carols, on Facebook.

And finally, the Fourth Sunday of Advent saw the premiere at Prescot Parish Church of Robert’s new setting of Ave Maria, which he dedicated to his late father, Bob Howard, as he approaches the 25th anniversary of his passing. Tenor David Kernick sang, with the composer at the piano.

Taking for granted the now-ubiquitous proviso that we are living in uncertain times, in 2022 Rob anticipates more composition and performances, including conducting engagements with Liverpool Mozart Orchestra and performances of his own works by the Choir of St Peter’s College, Oxford.

Don’t forget that the catalogue of Robert’s compositions continues to grow, with almost 200 scores now available for perusing, purchasing and downloading on Sheet Music Plus.

Robert Celebrates 30 Years Composing

The year 2020 marked three decades since Robert Howard began his composing career. As a pupil at Prescot School, in 1990, he wrote his first piece, Waltz in D, for piano.

Since that time, his compositions have racked up more than 300 live performances worldwide.

Despite the challenge of the pandemic and multiple lockdowns, it has been a successful year for Robert. Over 130 of his pieces are now available for printing and download via Sheet Music Plus, and more flexibly scored pieces have been published digitally by CoMA – Contemporary Music Making for All.

Nor has Covid-19 prevented public performances and even premieres. Rotations (2009) was performed by Stephen Mannings in March this year, and David Kernick sang the first performance of God So Loved the World in November, with the composer at the piano. Several performances of Rob’s Christmas carols are planned for December at Prescot Parish Church.


He has continued to compose, with Tantara, for solo trombone, among this year’s output; and he has revised and arranged several of his earlier compositions, many of which you can now hear or see in the Compositions section of this website.

And, in a final piece of good news, the Board of British Mensa recently announced they were to award Robert a Certificate of Appreciation for Services to Classical Music.

New Vocal Work Has Premiere 1 November

A new piece of sacred music by Robert Howard has its premiere at Prescot Parish Church this Sunday, 1 November.

God So Loved the World, a new setting of words from John Stainer’s cantata The Crucifixion, was composed earlier in the year, with a view to a premiere on Good Friday. With church worship and live music suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, the performance was postponed indefinitely.

Now, for the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls, tenor David Kernick will sing the piece, with the composer at the piano, at the close of Sunday 1 November’s Eucharist at Prescot Parish Church.

The service starts at 10am, and all are welcome. You are asked to book ahead and observe social distancing and other measures while inside. All details are online at prescotparish.org.uk.

News from the Lockdown

Robert’s compositions continue to find a way of being heard, even in these unusual times.

The Liverpool Cathedral-based community choir Liverpool64 sang the moving 2017 anthem Alleluia in early April. Singers rehearsed together online and recorded their individual performances at home, before director Stephen Mannings edited the final piece – a great technological accomplishment as well as a musical one.

The recording was used again by Prescot Parish Church for their Easter Day service, published to both Facebook and their website, prescotparish.org.uk.

Tenor David Kernick had planned to give the premiere Robert’s God So Loved the World on Good Friday, during the Second Hour at Prescot Parish Church. In it Robert follows in the footsteps of other composers – most famously John Stainer, who used the same biblical text  (John 3.16-17) in his 1887 oratorio The Crucifixion. Circumstances delayed the performance, but David nevertheless was able to introduce Prescot Parish Church Choir to the beautiful new setting as part of a an online tutorial.

Scores from Robert’s vast catalogue of compositions are still being added to Sheet Music Plus. Musicians finding the coronavirus restrictions a struggle may enjoy downloading and learning one of the dozens of instrumental solos, piano pieces, and chamber and choral works now available.

Scores Now Available on Sheet Music Plus (& Other News)

Robert Howard’s music is now available to download via Sheet Music Plus, ‘the world’s largest sheet music selection.’ Fourteen choral and piano solo works are already in the collection, and more are being added regularly.

Visit sheetmusicplus.com to browse compositions, preview scores, listen to audio excerpts and purchase sheet music.

Successful Festive Season

Advent and Christmas saw performances of Robert’s compositions, with Prescot Parish Church Choir singing his 2002 carol ‘A Babe Is Born’ on four occasions. Of these, the Mayor of Prescot’s Charity Christmas Concert, with an audience of almost 500, is most notable; the event, which Robert helped organise in his capacity as artistic director of the Prescot Festival, raised more than £1,400 for local causes.

Robert also enjoyed several conducting engagements over the festive season, with Liverpool Mozart Orchestra, South Liverpool Orchestra, Phoenix Concert Orchestra, Prescot Parish Church Choir and the three orchestras of St Edward’s College. The LMO concert was a particular highlight, with BBC Radio Merseyside star Roger Phillips appearing to narrate Prokofiev’s much-loved children’s work Peter and the Wolf.

Piano Premiere 6 March

Stephen Mannings will give the first performance of Robert’s 2009 piano piece Rotations on Friday 6 March at Prescot Parish Church. The concert, which starts at 7pm, also features the Gilbert Scott Singers – Liverpool Cathedral’s official youth choir – and Danielle Louise Thomas, the mezzo-soprano known as the ‘Voice of Liverpool’ (pictured). Danielle will sing the solo part in a performance of the beautifully meditative 2017 choral work Alleluia. Visit prescotfestival.co.uk for more details of the concert, including ticket information.

Coming soon: News of other upcoming performances by Prescot Parish Church Choir, South Liverpool Orchestra, Liverpool Cathedral outreach choirs and the Prescot Festival Chorus.

New Harvest Anthem & Other News

Robert Howard’s latest choral composition will have its premiere in Prescot in October 2019.

‘Glory, Love, and Praise, and Honour’ is a setting for SATB choir and organ (or piano) of a text by Charles Wesley, and its theme makes it an ideal anthem for Harvest Festival, although it suits many occasions in the Church year. It is an exuberant, celebratory hymn, march-like, with three verses and a coda.

The choir of Prescot Parish Church will sing it during Sung Eucharist at 10am on Sunday 6 October (St Mary’s, Church Street, L34 1LA), with Tim Hall on the organ and David Kernick conducting. Robert has dedicated it to the Reverend Kimberley Mannings, the Curate of Prescot, who celebrates her 30th birthday in December.

October also sees one of Rob’s sacred vocal works sung by an Oxbridge choir for the first time. The chapel choirs of Cambridge and Oxford universities play a vital role in the history of church music and the English choral tradition, making this performance a particular honour. Selwyn College Chapel Choir, under music director Sarah MacDonald, will sing ‘Jubilate Deo’ (SATB choir and organ/piano) at Choral Evensong on Tuesday 15 October (6.30pm, Selwyn College Chapel, Grange Road, CB3 9DQ). The work, after Psalm 100, was composed for the occasion of Rob’s own wedding to Laura in 2017.

In other news, the hymn ‘Bread of the World’ had its second performance on 27 September at Prescot Parish Church, during a concert celebrating Tim Hall’s 40th anniversary as Parish Organist. Listen below (with thanks to Alan Humphreys for the audio recording). David Kernick, to whose late mother, Jacquie (d. 26 March 2019), the piece is dedicated, conducted the choir of St Mary’s.

Among other vocal and instrumental items on the programme were three of Rob’s own miniatures, with the composer at the piano, as well as his 2018 setting of ‘For Mary, Mother of Our Lord,’ sung by soprano Elizabeth Lyon, again with Rob accompanying on piano.

Update (23 October 2019): The new anthem ‘Glory, Love, and Praise, and Honour’ (see above) will have its second performance on All Saints’ Sunday, during the 10am Eucharist at St Mary’s Prescot, again with David Kernick conducting Prescot Parish Church Choir, accompanied by Tim Hall on the organ.

Record-breaking Prescot Festival & More News

This year’s Prescot Festival of Music & the Arts broke records, with an unprecedented 1,700 through the doors of Prescot Parish Church and other venues.

The 10-day cultural celebration took place between Friday 21 and Sunday 30 June, and this year’s was the 15th since Rob founded it in 2005. Highlights included appearances by Dr Jazz & the Cheshire Cats, the Band & Drums of the Cheshire Constabulary and the world-renowned Liverpool Cathedral Choir. Maghull Wind Orchestra were joined by soprano Danielle Louise Thomas – the ‘Voice of Liverpool’ – for the Proms-style finale, which attracted an audience of 325, an increase of 100 on last year.

Two of Rob’s own compositions were performed during this year’s festival, with Alleluia (2018) opening this year’s ‘Come & Sing’ concert. The following day, Metropolitan Cathedral organist Richard Lea played the 2014 piece Meditation, dedicated to Lea and fellow organist Ian Tracey.

Elsewhere over the summer, Liverpool Cathedral Junior Choir sang Robert’s Ave verum corpus, while the Ormskirk Music Society Orchestra played the stirring 2015 work Cortege. In May, Rob was soloist in Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto, with the South Liverpool Orchestra.

Trinity Sunday, on 16 June, was the occasion of a premiere – Bread of the World, dedicated to Jacquie Kernick, who passed away on 26 March. The meditative hymn was sung by the choir during Eucharist at Prescot Parish Church.

Upcoming Performances

Prescot Parish Church Choir will sing Bread of the World again on at Parish Musicians in Concert later this month. Soprano Elizabeth Lyon will sing the solo voice version of For Mary, Mother of Our Lord (2018), accompanied by Stephen Mannings on piano, and the composer will play his own piano miniatures: Pastoral Intermezzo No. 2 (1994), The Mystery of the Trinity (1998) and Mother and Child (2000). All four compositions are premieres.

Parish Musicians in Concert takes place at Prescot Parish Church on Friday 27 September, at 7pm. Tim Hall, celebrating his 40th anniversary as Parish Organist, is joined by Prescot Parish Church Choir for 75 minutes of vocal and instrumental music, followed by cake and wine. Tickets are £5 on the door.

Looking even further ahead, Rob will conduct the Liverpool Mozart Orchestra for the first time on Sunday 8 December at 2.30pm in the Capstone Theatre at Liverpool Hope University Creative Campus (Shaw Street, Liverpool). The concert of ‘Festive Favourites’ features BBC Radio Merseyside’s Roger Phillips narrating Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.

June Performances Coming Up

April saw a double premiere, when Robert Howard’s new setting of the Good Friday Reproaches (I Gave You Love) was sung by the choirs of both St Mary’s, Prescot, and All Hallows’, Allerton, under the composer and Stephen Davies, respectively.

At Prescot, on the same day, Rob also conducted his own Ave verum corpus (2016).

Three choirs – Liverpool Cathedral Junior Choir, Liverpool Cathedral Youth Choir and the newly established Liverpool64 – assembled to sing Rob’s Jubilate Deo (2016) in the cathedral on Saturday 11 May. Stephen Mannings conducted, with a splendid accompaniment on organ, piano and timpani, as part of the ‘All Ages Sing!’ concert.

More performances are ahead for Rob’s compositions, both old and new.

On Sunday 2 June, Prescot Parish Church Choir will sing the 2017 anthem Alleluia during their morning Eucharist at 10am, with David Kernick conducting.

On Wednesday 5 June, Stephen Mannings conducts Liverpool Cathedral Junior Choir in Ave verum corpus during Evensong in the Lady Chapel of the cathedral (5.30pm).

On 16 June, Trinity Sunday, Prescot Parish Church Choir sing a new hymn, Bread of the World, during Holy Communion at the 10am Sung Eucharist, again under David Kernick.

On Saturday 22 June, Alleluia features in the Prescot Festival ‘Come & Sing’ concert at Prescot Parish Church, alongside Vivaldi’s Gloria, under conductor James Luxton, of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. All SATB singers are welcome to participate, and the guests for the second half of the evening are Liverpool Cathedral Choir.

The following day, 23 June, sees Robert’s 2014 organ piece Meditation performed at the festival as part of a recital by Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral organist Richard Lea. Tickets are just £5, including wine & nibbles, and under-16s are free with a paying adult.

Then, on Saturday 29 June at 7.30pm in St John the Baptist Church in Burscough (School Lane, L40 4AE), Jim Cooke directs the Ormskirk Music Society Orchestra in a performance of Rob’s stirring 2015 work Cortege. Tickets are £10 and £5.

Looking even further ahead, Bread of the World and other Howard compositions will be on the programme on Friday 27 September, at 7.30pm, at Parish Musicians in Concert. This church fundraiser at Prescot Parish Church features organist Tim Hall and guest musicians, including Robert and other members of Prescot Parish Church Choir.

Howard Premiere: ‘I Gave You Love’ (Good Friday Reproaches)

Robert has once again added to Prescot Parish Church Choir’s repertoire with a composition of his own, ‘I Gave You Love,’ which will be sung during the Final Hour Liturgy (2pm) this Friday, 19 April, at St Mary’s Prescot. It is scored for SATB choir and congregation.

The music, a setting of the traditional Good Friday ‘Reproaches,’ is based on themes from Robert’s earlier motet ‘For Mary, Mother of Our Lord,’ written in 2018 for the same choir. It will dovetail with the anthem ‘Ave verum corpus’ (choir only, 2016). Organist Tim Hall is to accompany both.

Three performances of Robert’s ‘Jubilate Deo’ (2016) at Liverpool Cathedral in January and March were well-received. The last of these, by Liverpool Cathedral Junior Choir, took place during the first Liverpool Cathedral Choral Festival Piano Competition on 21 March, of which Robert was a judge. A fourth performance in this majestic venue is on 11 May as part of the cathedral’s Spring Concert, this time with a massed choir comprising Liverpool 64 Community Choir, Liverpool Cathedral Youth Choir and Liverpool Cathedral Junior Choir.

And finally, the 2015 orchestral work ‘Cortege’ is programmed by the Ormskirk Music Society for 29 June. More details on this, as well as Howard performances at the 15th Annual Prescot Festival of Music & the Arts (21-30 June), will follow soon.

Jubilate Deo Cathedral Performances Ahead

Robert Howard’s well-received choral work Jubilate Deo is to receive three performances at Liverpool Cathedral in the first half of 2019.

It will be sung in its two-part (SA) version. As with most of Robert’s recent choral compositions, it was originally written for Prescot Parish Church Choir.

Stephen Mannings, Director of Choral Outreach, will conduct on each occasion, following his conducting of Robert’s Magnificat & Nunc dimittis in the Lady Chapel of the cathedral in November 2018.

The three dates are:

  • Wednesday 30 January, 5.30pm, Choral Evensong (Liverpool Cathedral Junior Choir)
  • Wednesday 13 March, 5.30pm, Choral Evensong (Liverpool Cathedral Youth Choir & Liverpool Cathedral Junior Choir)
  • Saturday 11 May, 7pm, Spring Concert (Liverpool 64 Community Choir, Liverpool Cathedral Youth Choir & Liverpool Cathedral Junior Choir)

Find out more at www.liverpoolcathedral.org.uk.