Brothers follow dad's musical tradition

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 27, 2011

SPENCER — This is a story about bands of brothers.
And a father.
During pre-game festivities Friday night, the Salisbury and North Rowan high school bands performed together.
A cool thing, but even cooler when you know that the bands are directed by brothers — Tyler Howe at Salisbury and Andrew Howe at North Rowan.
Both are in their first years at those respective positions. Both are Catawba College graduates. Both were once drum majors at North Rowan High School.
And both are sons of Keith Howe, who has been a band director at middle schools and high schools in Rowan County for 31 years.
“He really tried to get us to do other things,” Andrew, 26, says of his father. “He said we were too smart to be band directors.”
This summer Keith Howe has worn out the streets between Spencer and Salisbury, lending his expertise and experience to both sons. He describes his boys as “wise beyond their years.”
How could they not be, having grown up as band rats, then later assisting their father when he was band director at North Rowan?
“They know what’s going on big time,” says Keith, now band director at North Rowan Middle School. “I’m trying not to interfere. It is cool, though.”
Tyler Howe, 22, said he grew up going to band camps, parades, competitions and games where his father’s bands performed.
“It’s where I’ve been and what I’ve known,” he says.
But the Howe men — Keith included — say the biggest influence in directing the boys toward careers as band directors may have been their mother, Wyna.
She insisted that her sons take piano lessons as children, participate in middle school band for three years and perform at least one year in the high school band.
“That was non-negotiable,” Wyna Howe says.
Claiming that years of research back her up, Wyna strongly believes that kids who learn music do better in school and on standardized tests.
And playing music and being part of a band, she adds, teaches math, spatial orientation, teamwork and discipline.
Wyna Howe is making the same demands of the brothers’ little sister, Madison, who is an eighth-grader at North Rowan Middle School. In sixth and seventh grades, her big brother Andrew was her band director.
This year, Madison’s father is her band leader.
All three Howe children are trumpet players, by the way.
A graduate of Pfeiffer University, Keith Howe served as band director at East Rowan High for 18 years; China Grove Middle School, two years; North Rowan Middle School, three years; and North Rowan High, the past eight years.
He was called into the North Rowan High job back in 2003 as a last-minute replacement days before school started, and he built a strong band program from there.
Interestingly, Andrew never had his father as a band director in either middle school or high school, while Tyler had Keith as his band director for seven consecutive years.
Now Keith Howe is back at North Rowan Middle, having made way for Andrew to take over at the high school.
Middle school is all about teaching when it comes to band, the Howes say, while high school is more about performing.
“I enjoy doing it,” Keith says about lasting three decades in the work. “It’s fun getting paid, doing what you like to do.”
Tyler Howe says his father fought for the North Rowan High band program because it wasn’t where it needed to be when he took over.
“Now I’m battling the exact same things he fought for at North,” Tyler says of taking over the Salisbury High program, which has only 40 members.
A turnover in band directors over recent years has jaded the students a bit and made it a rebuilding process, Tyler says.
“It’s a challenge,” he adds. “For me, it’s a new group of students who have really had an unfortunate go of it. It’s tough having to remind myself every day that these kids may be giving me all they have and all they’re willing to give right now.”
But he says his band members are learning every time out.
Andrew Howe taught band for a year at Brawley Middle School in Iredell County, followed by three years at North Rowan Middle School.
He had entered Catawba College as a history major, thinking he would teach or go to law school, but he graduated in music after realizing it was something he couldn’t live without.
Andrew is thrilled with the support from the school’s band boosters and describes his 70-member band as young, sprinkled with many new faces.
They already have survived two hot weeks of band camp, during which most days went from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Andrew is aiming for their first halftime performance at East Rowan High next week.
The Howe brothers know that band directors have many behind-the-scenes duties that involve budgeting, purchasing, scheduling practices, arranging buses and the like.
Andrew drove down to Gaston County earlier in the week, just to pick up the right flags for North.
The administrative part aside, they both compare band directing to coaching.
“We want the same out of our musicians,” Tyler says, “as a coach wants out of his star quarterback every night.”
Wyna Howe says all three Howe men have a passion for kids.
“This is more than just a job to them,” she says. “This is something they lose sleep over.”
Wyna said she is surprised, on one hand, that the boys became band directors after they grew up seeing how frustrating a profession it can be at times. Also, in today’s world, when arts programs are often the first thing school systems cut, band directing may not provide a secure future, Wyna adds.
But her sons, from the time they were infants, could direct and keep a drum beat. “I felt a long time ago,” Wyna says, “that it was a calling for both of them.”
The Howe men are a close-knit bunch. Beyond all their band duties over the years, they have been coaches, referees and umpires together. They also share strong allegiances to Carolina Panthers football and Duke University basketball.
Andrew Howe says his father tends to understate his importance and influence on them both, especially in their first years as band directors.
“It’s like having your own personal mentor,” he says.
Pretty cool.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or