This past Saturday we had a garage sale. Wowza. This means that I have been peering into the dark recesses of the house to bring to light that which should be sent along its way into the homes of others.
I happily ran across this book in my overflowing book collection.
I started to flip through it and lo and behold, the smiling face of my high school piano teacher peered back at me.
Aww. I have such fond memories of Dr. Howell. After having studied piano with the same teacher for seven years, I decided to embark upon a new challenge and study with a college professor. A family friend recommended we call Dr. Howell, who at the time was the chair of the Piano and Music Theory Department at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
My first memory of Dr. Howell was when I went to his house for an audition the summer before starting 9th grade. He took the pressure off my first performance for him by going to the kitchen to make tea while I played. This I found quite unusual since I was used to having a teacher sit right next to me the entire lesson. He was very kind, offered a few suggestions, and agreed to accept me into his studio.
Summer lessons were taken in his home. The large upright piano sat in the living room, whose windows opened onto a backyard of beautiful gardens, all planted and curated by Dr. Howell. Tea, garden and music. Interesting that these three things have become my favorite hobbies as well.
Lessons during the school year were taken in his studio in the music building on the campus of Bethel College. As a high school student, I felt so grown up walking through the halls and mingling with the cool college students. I remember Dr. Howell grabbing a snack during my lessons and crunching away as I played through Chopin or Debussy. I had to remember to dress in layers during the winter months because he would blast the space heater and I would end up sweating through my thick Minnesota-approved winter sweater.
Dr. Howell was a kind and gentle soul. He taught me many things. In the early days, he taught me that the purpose of piano study was not to play through as many pieces as I possibly could, but to slow down and mine the treasures from each piece. This was a hard lesson as a fourteen year old because I felt that my worth as a pianist was tied to the sheer volume of pieces I could play, however mediocre the performances were. Dr. Howell taught me to see the detail and to start making music.
He was also the first teacher to really teach me technique and theory in a way that directly correlated to the music I was playing. And it started to make sense. We would study for the Minnesota Music Teachers Association theory exams and I began to really see how theory enlightened my understanding of music.
He taught me how to really practice and required an hour of practice each day, more than what I was previously doing.
Later in high school, he brought me along to different meetings at which he was speaking to demonstrate how to teach technique to high school students. These were great opportunities to play for other teachers.
In planning my own studio recitals, I still think of Dr. Howell’s recitals. They were pretty basic, but all his students played well and the recitals were enjoyable.
He encouraged me to study music in college and hoped that I would attend Bethel College where he taught. Although I chose a different college, I am forever grateful for the solid technical and musical skills Dr. Howell imparted to me. He helped make the pursuit of a music degree a possibility for me.