In 2011, Christian Howes was nominated “Rising Star (violin)” by the 2011 Downbeat Magazine‘s Critics Poll. This annual poll allows over 150 critics from around the world to decide who is among the best in their respective polls. All the winners can be seen here.
Also in 2011, Christian Howes was named “Violinist of the Year” by the Jazz Journalists Association. In this year’s 15th annual Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards, 39 winners will be recognized for their excellence in jazz music, including recordings, presentation and journalism. Awards will include the Lifetime Achievement in Jazz, Musician of the Year, Composer of the Year, and Best of the Year Awards for blogs and websites, publications, journalists, photos, recordings, presenters, and musicians. The Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) is a non-profit organization that supports the formation and circulation of correct, balanced, just and informative journalism on all of jazz’s genres. JJA Journalists Association began their Jazz Awards in 1997.
Christian Howes was recently selected as a one of fifteen recipients of the 2012 Residency Partnership Program. This annual grant, awarded by Chamber Music America, helps recipients “organize and conduct interactive workshops, masterclasses, demonstrations, free performances, and other music activities in urban, suburban, and rural areas.” Christian Howes Group was awarded a grant to help “lead workshops for McPherson, KS, high school string players” as well as provide many other teaching services to students and teachers. You can read the entire article in the May/June 2012 issue of Chamber Music Magazine.
Christian Howes was recently mentioned in an article for “Teaching Music” magzine. The article, below, was written by Cynthia Darling and is featured on page 59 in the April 2012 issue.
The value of bringing an outside musician into the classroom to teach a specific skill is worth its weight in gold. Students and teachers alike come away from the experience inspired and ready to try new techniques and approaches. Kathleen McCullough, orchestra director at Blue Valley Northwest High School and Harmony Middle School in Overland Park, Kansas, recently brought Berklee College of Music associate professor and rising jazz star Christian Howes into her classroom for a three-day event. Howes taught the skill of improvisation to McCullough’s string students, and he used an unlikely piece: Pachelbel’ Canon in D.
McCullough was thrilled with Howes’ choice. “I think it was great because the students were familiar with it and aurally could tell if they were playing correct notes from the chords. I addition, the students love that piece, so having them play it again and again was not a problem.”
McCullough’s students began their improvisation work before Howes visited the classroom; Howes himself helped to prep stuents by sending materials to use beforehand. “Christian sent a video and sheet music ahead of his visit,” McCullough reports. “The sheet music was the basic chord pattern for the Canon in D, and his video took the students step by step through how to make the changes by choosing a note in the chord and moving to the next closest note in the next chord.”
Because Howes’ time in the classroom was limited, McCullough made sure that students would have this pattern internalized by the time he arrived: “I had the students memorize the chord pattern so that when he came they were prepared to take the next steps. I also had music on their stands to help if they forgot.”
Students responded enthusiastically to Howes’ instruction. “They loved working with him,” McCullough says. “He demonstrated and modeled for them and then had them work as a large group. Later, in smaller groups, he had them create their own pieces. I actually had a middle school student arrange the piece ‘Friday’ for strings; it included an improv section.”
Howes’ visit with the students extended beyond the classroom. It was a three-day event, culminating with a large festival including approximately 400 elementary, middle, and high school students. “Christian hired a band and played several pieces that really had the crowd involved,” McCullough recalls. “Then for the finale, all 400 students played chords with rhythm variations, with about eight students doing solo improvisations on our set of electric instruments. Many parents said it was the most enjoyable concert they had ever attended.”
McCullough’s school district has an education foundation that supports innovative teaching ideas. She was able apply for a grant from the foundation to fund the visit. “I requested $3,000 to cover the cost of Christian’s fee,” she says. “He stayed at my house, and his airfare expense was covered by some fundraising money.”
The truest testament to the value of Howes’ visit is the prolonged effect it has had upon the students. McCullough has been thrilled to see that “several students have explored the improvisation piece using other chord progressions” since Howes’ visit. And his instruction will continue to resonate throughout the school year with McCullough’s students. “I do an improvisation unit with my middle and high school students each spring,” she says, “and I plan to use the Pachelbel chord progression as a starting point this year to familiarise my students with improvisation.”
McCullough and Howes’ experience is proof that, with enough foresight and planning, the collaboration of music educator and professional performer can create magic for students.