YOU COME FROM A MUSICAL BACKGROUND, HOWARD, BUT HOW SOON WERE YOU ENCOURAGED TO USE YOUR OWN TALENTS AND WHO PARTICULARLY INFLUENCED YOU IN YOUR FORMATIVE YEARS?
I grew up in a family where music was very much part of all that we did, which is why we had four pianos in different rooms in the house! My parents were music teachers and active as section leaders in my home corps; Dad was the songster leader and Mum was the singing company leader. I started to learn the tenor horn at the age of seven, with my uncle, the YP band leader, and a few years later began piano and cello studies as well. My tenor horn playing developed into serious study on the French horn a little after that.
FROM THOSE EARLY BEGINNINGS IN ARMY JUNIOR SECTIONS, WHEN DID IT BECOME APPARENT THAT THE PIANO WOULD BE YOUR MAJOR INSTRUMENT?
I cannot remember a time when I did not want to play the piano and do it well. My parents found a fantastic piano teacher, Harold Parker, who lived at Chelmsford. He did not just teach me to play the piano but gave me many of the musical skills that I have needed over the years. I would say he taught me to be a musician, not just a pianist. By my early teens I was practising up to five hours a day when not at school! I wanted to do it.
YOU OBTAINED A BACHELOR OF MUSIC HONOURS DEGREE FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER AND HAVE PERFORMED AS A CONCERT PIANIST. DID THAT BECOME A CAREER OBJECTIVE AND, IF SO, WHAT CAUSED YOU TO CHANGE COURSE?
Becoming a professional pianist was the objective of my studies both at university and then with the postgraduate diploma I studied for at the Royal Northern College of Music. However, it was a gradual process over a period of time – and a significant moment of realisation after a Cobham National School of Music – that I followed the conviction that I should become a Salvation Army officer. This led to my entering the training college in 1982 and being commissioned in 1984.
YOU WORKED AT ONE TIME WITH LIEUT-COLONEL NORMAN BEARCROFT; THAT MUST HAVE BEEN AN INTERESTING EXPERIENCE. TELL US SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS DURING YOUR PERIOD AS NATIONAL BANDMASTER.
I served with Norman from April 1988 to June 1992 and had a most meaningful time, as well as lots of fun! You might expect me to highlight some of the major events or music schools I took part in, which were many, but the most important aspect I learnt was to integrate and keep in balance the spiritual and musical dimensions of ministry. I have always felt most fulfilled when they worked together.
HAVING SECURED SEVERAL DIPLOMAS FOR PLAYING AND CONDUCTING, YOU LATER BECAME KNOWN AS AN OUTSTANDING CONTESTING BAND TRAINER AND CONDUCTOR. HOW DID THAT COMPARE WITH DIRECTING ARMY BANDS?
That’s a little bit too generous; but to answer, in many ways it is no different. The rationale and raison d’être for bands might be different, but we are all using the same language – music – and it has to say something. Music can say so many things and present a plethora of pictures and emotions. For me, it has to be expressive and communicative.
YOU GAINED A DOCTOR OF MUSICAL ARTS DEGREE IN PERFORMANCE. HAS THIS ACHIEVEMENT HELPED TO FURTHER YOUR MUSICAL CAREER, ESPECIALLY IN YOUR PRESENT ROLE AS DIRECTOR OF CLASSICAL PERFORMANCE AT SALFORD UNIVERSITY?
It obviously contributed to my being
offered the permanent post I have at the
university, especially in today’s cultural
need for qualifications. But I’ve always
felt that the most important thing about
gaining this was the process I went
through, the experiences during this
period of study and my own personal
development as a result of that.
YOU ARE ALSO A COMPOSER;
SOME WOULD SAY YOU HAVE NOT
WRITTEN ENOUGH. CAN WE
EXPECT MORE MUSIC FROM YOUR
I would love to have more time to write,
and have some works sketched out and
on the drawing board. I just don’t seem
to have enough hours in a week to
accomplish everything that I would wish,
but it is a serious intention to be able to
produce more music.
YOU’VE BEEN BANDMASTER AT
BOSCOMBE FOR MORE THAN
12 YEARS; FROM A PERSONAL
POINT OF VIEW, I NEVER FAIL TO
BE SPIRITUALLY UPLIFTED BY THE
BAND’S PLAYING, PARTICULARLY
OF DEVOTIONAL MUSIC. HOW DO
YOU APPROACH THIS IMPORTANT
ASPECT OF MINISTRY?
I said to the band at rehearsal this
week, that whatever standard of piece
we play, in whatever place we perform,
it has to be of the highest and most
consistent level, for the reasons I
outlined earlier in my approach to
music. The music has to communicate
the spiritual dimension.
YOUR POSITIVITY IN THE FACE
OF CANCER HAS BEEN AN
INSPIRATION TO MANY, BUT IT
MUST HAVE AFFECTED YOUR
WHOLE LIFE. HOW HAVE YOU
COPED IN THESE DIFFICULT
This is probably the most important
question you have asked me, and could
be answered at length. At the start of
2013, Heather and I were simply asking
that the right doors be opened to us for
the coming year, and this was the path
we found ourselves on.
I can divide the last 14 months into
different periods of treatment, from
chemotherapy to radiotherapy and
having surgery twice. I can identify
during each of these phases a song, or
sometimes a psalm, that became a
mantra to keep my focus, whatever the
circumstances. Sometimes they were of
my own finding and sometimes they
were given to me by friends. For
example, before going under the
anaesthetic for surgery the first time, I
was using the words of George
Matheson’s song, ‘O Love That Wilt Not
Let Me Go’, as well as for some time
after that. In that way music has also
played its part in these last months.
Also I have been overwhelmed by the
number of people who have kept in
touch – by letter, phone, email and
social media – and promised to pray for
me. I have been convinced that this
support has been part of my general
sense of wellbeing throughout this time.
Allow me to say a heartfelt thank you
to God, and to all those who have
supported us during this long journey.