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He also was known in the Blacksburg area for his work with many musical performance groups.
Saturday, May 4, 2013
A longtime Virginia Tech music professor known for his rare expertise in early music and his dedication to his work died Friday.
John Howell served as a professor in the university’s music department for more than 30 years where much of his focus was on the history of music, historical instruments and early musical ensembles.
“John was a unique person. He had rare expertise,” said Jay Crone , head of the music department. “He had tremendous knowledge in the areas of early music.”
According to his biography on Virginia Tech’s website, Howell had been a professional entertainer and musical arranger with the group The Four Saints , performing around the globe. He also appeared on TV variety shows of the 1960s and has produced 23 albums, nine singles and some commercial jingles.
Howell published several works as well, including a book on the life and teaching of string educator George Bornoff , articles in the string education publication “The Orff Echo,” “The Kodaly Envoy,” and choral arrangements which have sold more than 20,000 copies worldwide, according to his biography.
He was known in the Blacksburg community for many of the musical performance groups he supported and directed, especially his revival of The New Virginians , a popular show choir he helped to revive in the late 1970s. Howell also served as conductor of the Early Music Ensemble, and the Choral Union at Virginia Tech.
Show choirs, such as The New Virginians, were one of Howell’s areas of expertise. He also was known for his knowledge of music that existed before the 1700s — a rarity, according to Crone.
Crone said Howell went above and beyond for the students, and teaching them about music was his passion. Over the years, Howell exposed hundreds of students to using historical instruments in his classroom, giving them an experience that students at other schools do not typically have.
Even as his cancer progressed, Howell still was working with students.
“He was literally grading papers on his deathbed, in the hospital,” said Crone. “He really cared about his students and tried to help them learn … it was important for him to finish out the semester.”
Crone said he may try to plan something in the future with some of Howell’s former students, many of whom expressed their sadness over Howell’s death on social media websites.
“He really cared about music and never lost that enthusiasm for the art,” said Crone. “I think a concert would be a great fit for him. Since he was so well known for outreach in the community.”
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