by Lindsay Larcombe
He wasn’t a celebrity who did good work for charity or humanitarian organisations, laudable though they are. He was my senior school music teacher in the late 60s and early 70s, when I attended school in Essex, UK, outside of London.
Mr Howarth had a very bad cleft palate, and when he was born in the 1920s the corrective surgery we now take for granted wasn’t available. As a result, his speech was badly affected. Did this impact his teaching, with children constantly asking him to repeat things and mocking him behind his back?
Not at all. His love of music and energetic baton work enthused everyone he taught. The orchestra tried not to giggle whilst following his expressive direction. He encouraged even the most non-musical of students. His love of music was so infectious he got many pupils to join the choir, band, and orchestra — though they would never have thought of joining on their own.
He showed by example the best way to overcome a handicap — carry on regardless, and rise above it.
He had trouble remembering pupil names, so if he didn’t know your name he had a solution. He called all the boys “Archibald” and all the girls “Alice.” It made for hilarious lessons when he shouted, “Archibald! Pay attention!” with his pronounced lisp, even though the child in question had no idea the remark was aimed at him.
Once we rehearsed for a school concert on a stage made of hollow moveable blocks, a school staple in the UK. There were a lot of solo acts and choir performances in between the orchestral and band pieces, so there was a lot of pupil movement on the temporary stage. Mr Howarth was insistent that we didn’t jump up and down on the blocks as it could be dangerous.
He was not a small man and he made the mistake of demonstrating what we were not to do. One of his energetic jumps resulted in him going through the block, up to his thighs in broken wood.
Luckily, apart from bruising his dignity (and probably his legs) he was unhurt.
Mr Howarth was so loved that when he retired in the 80s, after over 40 years of teaching, many former pupils returned for a surprise farewell concert in his honour. He was moved to tears when he realised he had affected so many generations of pupils.
We played all his favourite pieces, and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house when we played “Land of Hope and Glory”, a rousing tune well known in the UK.
I had many good teachers, but Mr Howarth was head and shoulders above the rest, and will always be an inspiration to me. I feel privileged to have known and been taught by him.