Celebrated musician John Raymond Howell of Blacksburg, associate professor of music in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech, died on Friday, May 3, 2013. Howell, an educator, musician, entertainer, husband, and father, was 77 years old.

Born April 17, 1936, in Everett, Wash., Howell joined the Virginia Tech music faculty in 1979 and was also active in the Blacksburg arts community. He directed “The New Virginians” from 1979 to 1993, entertaining countless thousands while instilling in his students a sense of professionalism and the importance of community.

In 1996, Howell founded the Virginia Tech Early Music Ensemble, which he directed until 2012. He performed with the Roanoke and Lynchburg Symphonies, and was a prominent member of the Blacksburg Community Band, Community Strings, and the Summer Musical Enterprise.

Howell worked tirelessly to better these local ensembles, creating new compositions and arrangements, organizing parts, or filling in on whatever instrument happened to be missing.

As a professional entertainer and music arranger with The Four Saints barbershop quartet, he performed on five continents and in all 50 states, appearing on the major TV variety shows of the 1960s.  

In the 1970s, he was the director of the All-American College Singers at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and of the Aspen Pro Arte at the Aspen Music Festival.  

As a faculty member at the Indiana University School of Music, he conducted the Belles of Indiana and the Pro Arte Consort.  At Virginia Tech, Howell directed numerous ensembles, including The New Virginians, the Studio Singers, the John Howell Singers, the Early Music Ensemble, and the Choral Union. Howell, whose expertise was early pre-1700s music, used historical instruments in his classes.

His legacy can be seen in the scores of former students active in the commercial and early music fields.

Published works include a book on the life and teaching of string educator George Bornoff, articles in the String Education Quarterly, the Orff Echo, the Kodály Envoy, and VMEA Notes, and choral arrangements that have sold over 20,000 copies worldwide.  He also produced 23 albums, nine singles, and some commercial jingles.

Howell received his bachelor's degree in music from the University of Puget Sound and a Master of Music degree in choral conducting from Indiana University School of Music (a student of Julius Herford and Fiora Contino). He pursued doctoral studies in musicology, with minors in choral conducting and viola performance (a student of William Primrose) also at Indiana University School of Music.

A memorial gathering and reception will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 9, 2013 at the Blacksburg Presbyterian Church, 701 Church St. SE.  In lieu of flowers, donations in Howell’s name can be made to the Blacksburg Summer Musical Enterprise.

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