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Music Journeys: Christian Howes

Jul 3, 2018

The 16th Annual Creative Strings Workshop and Festival continues today featuring string players from all over the world in Columbus for educational clinics and performances. 

Pop-up jam sessions are taking place this afternoon at a handful of Columbus library locations along with a longer show tonight at Dick's Den. Other events include a full concert and conversation Thursday July 5 at the United Methodist Church For All People and a Friday evening finale at William Street United Methodist Church. Columbus-native and violinist Christian Howes started the project. In the latest edition of Music Journeys, Howes explains how the seeds for the idea grew during his time in prison and how the festival represents his passion to connect people through music.   

Call from Episode 26 plays 

Christian Howes has spent the last year producing improvisational videos and songs, like this one titled Call. He's certainly found his calling not only as a music performer but also as an educator. Born in Cleveland and raised in Columbus, the 46-year-old Howes developed a love of the violin from his parents. By the age of 14, he knew he wanted to be a concert violinist. 

"Now the thing I didn't know was that it was going to take this turn and morph into a different direction rather than just a classical violinist," Howes reflected. "At the time, all I did was classical music, and I loved it. I still love it, but I made a decision that I could really distinguish myself by pursuing these other creative directions as somebody with a personal improvisational voice."

Howes played in churches and other diverse settings, with blues bands and jazz musicians. But his path took a detour when a drug trafficking charge resulted in an incarceration from 1992-1996. The experience inspired Howes as a musician, but also as a human being. 

"There's 200 convicts walking around a prison yard, and I'm in the middle of it playing Mendelssohn on my violin," Howes recalled. "And I remember thinking, wow. It was a very cathartic experience and all these guys appreciated that I'm playing it. I would connect with all these different musicians in prison, and that was an eye-opener to me. I realized how limited the lens of my classical training was. I realized that I could be profoundly enriched by learning it from these other folks. But also it's not just about how we learn music but how we identify ourselves. It created a passion for me in coming close to these individuals who had such a different experience than mine. But they wanted to sit down and play music with me, and it was just human to human."

Keep Your Head To The Sky plays

A year after his release from prison, Howes documented the experience with a CD titled Confluence. It featured recordings from the prison yard and some makeshift rehearsals from at the London Correctional Institution.  

Over the years, he's released more material and produced several recordings. He even shared the stage for several years with Les Paul.

Howes playing with Les Paul in 2003

But it's the Creative Strings Workshop and Festival that's been bringing Howes the most passion and inspiration.

"So the first year there were 8 people that studied with me, and we played about 3 gigs around town,” Howes said. “Now we've got 70 adult participants and 20 faculty leading bands in over 15 venues in greater Columbus. We’ve also have about 40 kids doing a concert of their own, so total about 150 people involved." 

Video from past festivals plays

"Two years ago we were welcomed to the New Covenant Believers Church. About 75 of us collaborated with choir members and band members and the supervisor at the time and Cedric Easton. It happened to be the same weekend of some high profile shootings, so the fact that we were holding this community integrated event and that it went off positive is something I felt good about and it motivates me to continue to evolve that every year and learn from."

For the second consecutive year, the highlight concert will be at the Church For All People to further connect with the community. Howes hopes the music and discussion touches people in some way and that the artists feel more connected to their passion to be musicians. He wants to inundate the city with the sound of music and contribute to a vision that's inclusive. He also plans an audio release for the 45 improvisational songs on his YouTube page.