Composer's Corner - An Interview With Rochester Composer Howard Rowe, Jr.

  • In an effort to help inspire new ideas and guide existing ones through the developmental process, I thought it would be helpful to read some thoughts about composing from an established and highly respected Rochester-based composer. Howard Rowe, Jr. has written more than 60 works published by many different publishing companies. In addition, as a retired music educator, he understands the developmental process of the whole student musician. He recently allowed me to ask some questions that I thought would help you with your compositions.

    1. How do you start a new composition? What inspires a new work?
    "Sometimes a new idea just comes to me. Other times, I may refer to a notebook or the computer where I store some undeveloped tunes. I may revise something I did in the past that wasn't successful. Sometimes, the pressure (or fear) of a deadline prompts some ideas. Sometimes the excitement of a commission or request will give me an idea. I try to work for at least a few hours each day. Sometimes I'll sit through the whole period and nothing will happen, but the more I persist, the easier it becomes."
    2. What steps do you take in revising your ideas?
    "I think you have to be willing to make revisions (or compromise) to be successful. If it's a composition for a school, you have to tailor it to the skills and shortcomings of the performers. Publishers always have parameters that may not fit your original vision. I learned a great lesson from Bill Rich of Northfield Music in Buffalo. He wanted to publish a string orchestra piece I had written for Ken Brown's students in Fairport but said up front that he wanted to make some revisions if I was willing. In the flush of excitement at being published I said "No problem; nothing is sacred". However, when he sent me the changes he wanted I was at first very angry. How dare he defile my masterpiece? For some reason I held my tongue and set about trying to make him happy. The result is a piece that I feel is much better than the original. I owe him a tremendous debt, he taught me a lot about string writing and he was very gracious while doing so. When something is published I send the publisher as finished a piece as I can with dynamics, phrasing, etc. Then, the publisher will send it to a copyist that will format it and make it look consistent with their product. Then it is sent back to me to proof read and offer corrections. Sometimes I'll notice something that may need clarifying and will make a notation on the music. I send it back and they print it as well as record it with a very good ensemble."
    3. How do you know when a work is complete?
    "I'm not sure. When the work has gone well, it just feels right. It doesn't feel right when I try to force an ending. I guess it's like talking or trying to make a point; you know when the conversation is over."
    4. Can you offer helpful tips for student composers?
    "Become proficient on a keyboard. Get plenty of theory and play an instrument so you can properly notate things. Become adept and stay up with technology. Most important, START RIGHT NOW! Try writing something for a medium in a style that you are comfortable with."

    About Howard Rowe, Jr.
    Howard Rowe, Jr. is a resident of Fairport, NY. He is a graduate of Irondequoit High School, and has earned degrees in music education from Syracuse University and Ithaca College. Mr. Rowe recently retired from the Rush-Henrietta Central School system where he taught at all levels for 32 years. He is the composer or arranger of over 60 published works for jazz and concert band, orchestra and various ensembles. His music is published by Alfred Music, C.L. Barnhouse, Kendor Music, MSB Music, Northfield Music Press and Warner Bros. Howard is the recipient of the Outstanding Young Educator Award from the Henrietta Jaycees, the ASCAP standards award, and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Outstanding Music Educator Award (Band). He has written many commissioned works, including those for Rush-Henrietta, the Penfield H.S. Commission project, and THE Commission Project. Mr. Rowe is also active as a performer and has played trumpet professionally for Mel Torme, the Ice Capades, shows like MAN of LA MANCHA and CRAZY FOR YOU and is music director for the Krazy Firemen and Sound Spectrum.