Music has often been thought of as a medium that often helps people discover their true identity. Jazz violinist and OSU alumnus Christian Howes has created an album, “American Spirit,” to help people “find their true voice” of what it means to be an American.
As his 15th CD, “American Spirit” includes 11 pieces created by different musical instruments, such as violin, bass, drum, piano and organ.
“The nature of the conversation of America today in all the media is a lot of polarization. But I think it is really important for us to try to focus on what we all share in common,” Howes said. “I think it will change the nature of all of our conversations by focusing on the most positive things we share.”
Howes said he believes that creativity, innovation, tolerance, diversity and perseverance are the most important values shared in the United States.
“I also want other people to think about their own definitions. It kind of just (goes) through the process of engaging in the conversation about what it (means) to be an American,” he said. “We want to find a diverse range of perspective(s) of America.”
The CD contains a selection of songs from different historical points.
“The purposes is to inspire people, to reflect upon and to celebrate and express what it means to different people to be Americans and have a conversation about that,” Howes said. “We (my composing team) want to find different ways to relate the history of American culture through our selections of songs.”
Howes graduated from OSU in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. His experience in learning philosophy stimulates him to relate identity to music.
“In philosophy, I really learned to think a lot more about questions of identity, and I am trying to reflect that musically,” he said.
Douglas Droste, the artistic director of the Muncie Symphony Orchestra and the director of orchestras at Ball State University, said Howes’ capability of reflecting his life experiences through his performing distinguishes him from other violinists.
“Chris’ life experiences are in his playing; you can just hear it. The highs and the lows. It’s all there. He speaks through his violin in a way that not many can,” Droste said in an email. “I have heard bits and pieces of the new album. It is classic Christian Howes: impeccable technique, exquisite phrasing and a soulful sound.”
Ranked as the No.1 “Rising Star” violinist in the Downbeat Critics Poll in 2011, Howes is known for his jazz performance by using the violin.
“You don’t have many violinists that are jazz violinists, and then of jazz violinists, you (do not have) not very many of them have the kind of technical fluency than he has,” said Shawn Wallace, the chair of jazz studies at OSU.
As a musician and as an improvisation educator, Howes said he believes that current music education has a lack of multiculturalism. He said that people tend to be specialists, and they can be very ignorant of things outside their special disciplines.
“Part of my vision is to show that the system of musical education should not be segregated. They should be more integrated,” he said. “I think musical education needs to be changed to become more inclusive and broader.”
As a multi-instrumentalist, Howes encourages students to think out of the box and combine different musical elements.
“Young musicians are often taught in the ‘traditional’ method of learning to read notes early on and then not straying far from written music. Chris’ teaching on improvisation and free thinking is clear, relatable and relevant,” Droste said. “And he has found a way to make this kind of learning not seem so foreign. His clinics with young students on improvisation is second to none, and each time students come away with new ideas, thoughts and methods on how to make great music.”
In 2012, Howes received the Residency Partner Award from Chamber Music America for his educational outreach with school orchestra programs.
“I want to be a part of jazz music, but I also perform classic music, and I also perform folk music and world music,” he said. “I realized that I could teach other classic musicians, especially about a different way for them to learn music based on what I have learned.”
“American Spirit” was released on Oct. 30 and can be purchased on Howes’ website, as well as Amazon, for under $20.