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THIS IS MY STORY

Music must express the spiritual dimension

Bandmaster Howard Evans (Boscombe) tells his story in an interview with Lieut-Colonel Ramsay Caffull

Bandmaster Howard EvansYOU 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.

Howard leads Boscombe Band

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 PEN?

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 CIRCUMSTANCES?

Howard and HeaterThis 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.

Originally published April 26, 2014. Reproduced with the kind permission of Salvationist magazine.





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