Howard Parr’s passion for music began with his step-grandmother, or Aunt Bessie as she preferred to be called. A graduate of the University of Michigan’s Music Conservatory, Aunt Bessie taught Howard to play piano and organ.
In 1937, Howard left the Manchester, Michigan farm where he was born and raised to study history and English at University of Michigan. Aunt Bessie gave Howard season tickets to attend concerts at Hill Auditorium. “Season tickets in the second balcony cost $6.25 per year,” Howard remembers. “This experience had such an impact on my life. It gave me an ear and eye for music and what is good.”
Now, at age 98, Howard has completed a book that documents his musical journey, entitled, Music in My Life. This marks the fifth book that Howard has penned over the years, as well as many others he has co-written. Several of his books are available through the University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library and the Manchester Area Historical Society.
Howard traces his musical legacy to his great-grandfather from Ireland who played violin, and his grandfather who played bass horn in the Lore City Citizens Band. Howard’s five children also inherited his musical talents, including Marcia who sang with Youth for Understanding in South America and Europe, Miriam who teaches elementary music at the Cranbrook Institute, and Clayton who is choir director and professor of music at his alma mater, Albion College.
Howard dedicated himself to educating students as a teacher, principal, and superintendent, along with a six-year stint in the Army following Pearl Harbor. After nearly 40 years in education, Howard retired in 1977 and returned to his hometown of Manchester.
Although not a full-time musician, music has always been an integral part of Howard’s life. He served as a substitute organist at Manchester First United Methodist Church and has played for countless hymn sings and senior citizens lunches. Howard can still be found playing the piano at Chelsea Retirement Community (CRC) where he now lives. “We should share the gifts that God gives us,” says Howard.
Some of Howard’s memorable musical experiences included the chance to play a steam calliope on the Delta Queen while on a weekend cruise on the Ohio River; playing the organ at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater; and seeing the world’s largest organ ever built in Atlantic City, with 33,000 pipes and seven consoles!
Howard’s book will be available soon, with a Book Party reading and signing planned for Saturday, July 21 at 3:30pm in the CRC Dancey House Mezzanine. A Spotify play list will accompany the book.