Longtime band leader plays on

Norvil Howell, 74, of Clovis teaches his grandchildren Jake, left, and Hannahto play the trumpet. Jake has taken lessons from his grandfather since he was 4. Hannah is just starting to make sounds on it. (Andy DeLisle)

By Tonya Garner: CNJ staff writer

Kind but stern, longtime Clovis High band director Norvil Howell taught discipline through music, former band members said.

Clovis’ Bob Aucutt said studying under the demanding Howell made boot camp a breeze when he enlisted in the U.S. Army following high school.

“Those drill sergeants were nothing compared to Mr. Howell,” Aucutt said. “He (Howell) pushed hard, but he always knew when to back off.”

“He was a big influence on my entire life,” said Aucutt, a Clovis paint store owner. “He taught me to work hard and always be on time.”

Howell, 74, was the Clovis band director for 24 years and later served as music coordinator from 1980 until 1997.

He will be honored by more than 350 former students during a band reunion today and Saturday.

Music was in his blood, said Howell, citing how as a small child in Kansas he would escape the pew as often as possible to rush to the front of the church to direct the choir.

“Before my parents could catch me,” Howell said. “I’d be up there leading the singers.”

Longtime friend John Urban described Howell as an outgoing and humorous person who loved his job.

“The driving force behind Mr. Howell was his desire to make sure the kids had a good music education,” said Urban, the longtime public address announcer for the Clovis marching band. “The kids were his life.”

Howell’s mischievous sense of humor peppers his conversation often, especially when he refers to his hearing loss.

“I wear hearing aids,” Howell said, “because I spent so many years around bass drums.”

Howell played the coronet as a band student and still picks up the instrument to blow a few notes. “The dogs chime in (off-key of course),” he said, “but the cat always runs away.”

Howell started as a high school band director in Muleshoe in 1954 when schools were still segregated. He said during his free period he would cross the railroad tracks that divided the town and teach music at the small, two-roomed Black school situated in a cotton field.

Two years later, Howell moved to Clovis to begin his long tenure as CHS band director.

Cherrie Hayden said she benefited from Howell’s musical tutelage in elementary and high school. She said Howell not only taught her to play the clarinet, he also instilled her with self-discipline and confidence.

“He (Howell) was very strict but always kind,” said Hayden, a Clovis real estate agent. “He taught me to never be late, to practice often, and that there is a time and place for everything.”

Howell admitted to using a strict teaching method with his students.

“If you love the kids they’ll take the discipline,” Howell said, “and they’ll respect you for it.”

Hayden said it was easy to respect her beloved band teacher because he was sympathetic and quick with compliments.

“I remember one time when we (CHS band) didn’t win,” Hayden said. “He really felt for us. He had tears in his eyes.”

Another of Howell’s musical achievements include being the founding conductor of the Clovis Community Band, which is still in existence today. Howell joked that people always assumed he had sheet music on the stand in front him, but he actually had a sign which read “when the music stops, turn around and bow.”

Since his retirement in 1997, Howell said he spends time with his wife of 43 years, Elaine, who he lovingly calls ‘momma,’ gives music lessons, and plays with his grandchildren.

“The main thing I miss (since retiring) is the kids,” Howell said. “What little success I had in the business was because of the great teachers and students I was surrounded by.”