Originally from Oklahoma, Cameron Howe was brought up in a family environment that he describes as ‘non-musical but very musically appreciative’. One of his first vivid memories of classical music was watching the VHS tape of Disney’s Fantasia so frequently that it eventually disintegrated altogether!
‘When I was in Year 6 at my state school, we had the opportunity to try out instruments and decide what we were going to pick and focus on for one term. I remember being utterly confounded by the reed instruments and could only manage unforgivable sounds on brass, but the violin caught my eye. As I was experimenting on it, the orchestra teacher came over, took one look at me and asked if I had ever heard of a viola. She was a viola player herself and, after one glance at my awkward long arms, she convinced me that the viola would be much more comfortable for my frame. Since then, I’ve never looked back.’
Cameron started group classes and orchestra in school once a week and spent the rest of his time teaching himself how to play by ear.
‘After a year or two, and with the encouragement of my orchestra teacher, I started receiving lessons from my first private tutor who introduced me to viola-centric music, including one of the favourite albums of my youth, Vaughan Williams’s Phantasy Quintet. The version I listened to was played by the Maggini Quartet whose viola player, Martin Outram, is now mentoring my own quartet as part of our Academy ASSET quartet training scheme.’
Cameron’s musical education journey took him first to Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University, where he played in the youth orchestra, then to Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he studied with Stephen Wyrczynski and Ed Gazouleas for four years before graduating and pursuing an opportunity in Los Angeles that rekindled his love for musical performance
‘I found myself teaching at Renaissance Arts Academy, a performing arts charter school for students from families who qualify for financial assistance. I taught kids who would otherwise never have access to any musical training, let alone strings training, at their own school. The school boasted a 100% graduation rate and helped to send students to college, with many becoming the first in their families to graduate from high school.
‘I am eternally grateful for my time on this programme and I will forever be committed to advocating for the arts as essential education. Watching my students’ musical journey inspired me and rekindled my passion for music-making.’
Following an audition where he was offered the assistant principal viola position of the American Youth Symphony and a full scholarship to a major summer music festival, he decided to audition for several graduate schools. ‘I couldn’t believe my luck when I received my acceptance letter to the Academy.’
‘I was impressed with [Head of Strings] Jo Cole’s openness and honesty. She emphasised the value the Academy places on community to ensure that every student receives the support they need to realise their abilities. I was equally delighted when she gave me a strings handbook that was full of charismatic charm and warmth. I think it was meant primarily for undergraduates, but it had really practical and pragmatic advice that I found extremely relevant as a new international student in London and it was clearly written by someone who had given a lot of thought and care for students from a variety of circumstances and backgrounds.’
‘Between Jo, Jon Thorne [professor of viola] and the many incredible support staff with whom I have had the pleasure of interacting during my time at Academy, I feel absolute certainty that I chose the most supportive and yet challenging institution for my artistic growth.’
Cameron is incredibly grateful for the support of the San Martino Award, which is funded through the San Martino Trust by the late Veronica Williams-Ellis, a long-standing supporter, patron and friend of the Academy. He would ultimately like to pursue a musical career with a strong focus on increasing access and inclusivity to arts education and performance.
‘Music enriched my childhood in a way I'm truly grateful for, and I think it should be made accessible to all children , especially ones for whom art might have been presented as a privilege or a luxury. I never imagined that I would end up studying the viola at such a prestigious institution and am humbled to have been offered the San Martino Award.’