My name is Robert Howard, a composer and pianist from Santa Rosa, CA. When UCLA and the California Arts Council presented me with the Art and Accessibility Award for Individual Artists last year (June/2020), I finally had financial resources available to record, master and produce my premiere album, “Sound Offering.” This generous grant allowed me to continue working during the pandemic and remain focused on this deeply personal project that shared my journey through grief, pain and survival.
My compositions gestate from personal losses experienced during the AIDS crisis. I sought to memorialize friends and partners through music—my final love letter in sound. This project was conceived from a desire to heal myself, however, as I shared my pieces, I found that they had a powerful impact on others. I played an early version of my song “Loss” for a friend who had recently suffered a loss of her own. When I turned to hear her response, she was weeping. I knew in that moment that I had found something that went beyond my own struggles, something that tapped into suffering and longing we all share when grieving. It revealed to me that through original music, composed in solitude, I could be of service to my community—not in spite my own pain, but because of it. This inner discovery of my own musical ability to communicate inspired me to a new level of commitment. I continued to write, finding deeper meaning and purpose in themes of grief and loss. It was not a surprise that the work progressed more rapidly, and soon I had enough pieces to record an album. It was important that I create a “sound novel” that unfolded in 14 unique chapters that were part of a whole, a resolute and reverent offering. Maurice Ravel’s own tribute to friends he lost in WWII, “Le tombeau de Couperin” was a beautiful model whose concept I admired. My goal was to create a collection of piano solo memorials for 21st century losses in my own experience and narrated by my own musical voice.
My disabilities inform my art, as both inspiration and hinderance. While they inform my soul they also impact day-to-day activity. Willing myself through extended time at the piano is a challenge--unpredictable hand neuropathy, fatigue, and physical limitations are daily navigations. Playing is a refuge, often leading me out of the blues, easing physical symptoms and almost always guiding me to new work. I adopted Samuel Beckett’s well known quote as a model: “Ever try and fail? Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Approaching music in this way is liberating, allowing me to remain focused on composing--even on bad days.
The challenges of being disabled while living on a fixed income initially dampened hopes of producing “Sound Offering.” When I examined all the costs, it seemed an impossible dream. I had obtained significant help from friends and family, but expenses to finish and release a professional recording exceeded even their generosity. When I first learned of the Art and Accessibility grant for Individual Artists who are disabled while working as a part time grant writer for a local non-profit, I dared to hope. I decided to sit out the 2019 application round in order to offer a stronger application in 2020, when I would be closer to a finished product.
Winning this award in 2020 was a breathtaking gift. I now had financial resources to finish this project. From recording to deciding on an album cover art design and releasing my music to the public this help was vital. Grant funds also allowed me to obtain copyright protection for my work and supported creation of a music website, further expanding my listening audience.
The growth of my music career is a lifetime pursuit, but the Art and Accessibility grant was a timely catalyst for new music collaborations as well. Performance opportunities arose to expand my audience by creating my own music videos to share in virtual events. In collaboration with graphic artists, photographers and painters, I strived for a natural, serene look to accompany my original compositions.
Lifelong dyslexia had been a barrier to music notation. Now, however, it is simply the next challenge to overcome. I am completing piano scores for “Sound Offering,” a milestone which prepares me for my new music projects—active recording of another studio album and scoring a ballet suite for chamber orchestra. I am always looking for ways to join with other artists and community projects that assist in humanitarian and human rights causes. If you and/or your organization have a video or film project needing original music, please feel free to contact me at my website or email listed above.
Thank you for reading my Artist story.
Music composition career accomplishments for Robert Howard include:
- 2021 California Small Business Relief Grant
- 2020 Arts & Accessibility Individual Artist Grant
National Arts and Disability Center at UCLA and California Arts Council
- 2020 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Musicians Relief Grant
For “American Roots Music” composed in spiritual and hymn tradition Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Alliance for California Traditional Arts
- 2020 California Humanities Cultural Practitioners Award
California Arts Council and Center for Cultural Innovation
- First Presbyterian Church, Santa Rosa, CA - April 3, 2021
Saturday Holy Week Service
Featuring “Sole Solstice” from “Sound Offering”
- St. John’s United Methodist Church, Rohnert Park, CA - April 2, 2021
Good Friday Meditation Recital - an online service featuring 4 works from “Sound Offering” and premiere of a new work — “Lamentation”
Services will be shared with United Methodist Churches nationwide.
- Online Zoom Recital - “Master Class”, March 26, 2021
Santa Rosa Convalescent Hospital Zoom Music Group “Sound Offering” - Robert Howard - Composer & Piano
- 14 Contemplative Contemporary solo piano works
Award winning debut CD is released to the public, December 2020
- Santa Rosa Junior College - Day of Remembrance - November 20, 2020
Presentation for Transgender Remembrance Day hosted online by GBLT+ Presidential Advisory Committee, featuring 4 works.
- St. John’s United Methodist Church, Rohnert Park, CA
Online Easter Service Recital - Original Music videos via YouTube /church website.
Preview of work from debut CD, “Sound Offering”, April 2020
- Santa Rosa Junior College - Piano Class Recital - December 2019
Premiere of composition “Mirage”
- Art Trails 35th Annual Gala - Sebastopol Art Center - September 2019
Opening Gala with Play It Forward Music Foundation colleagues