18 August 2022


This obituary was originally written as an ‘advance’ for The Independent before it became wholly digital and with a different policy for obituaries. So it was never published and is presented here in the format adopted by The Independent at the time.

Martin How was a brilliant organist and inspirational choir trainer who spent the greater part of his career in the service of the Royal School of Church Music, as headquarters choirmaster at Addington Palace and as initiator of the Chorister Training Scheme, now adopted in various forms throughout the world. He inaugurated the RSCM Cathedral Singers, which sang at Canterbury Cathedral and elsewhere and frequently broadcast on the BBC’s Choral Evensong, and was an RSCM Commissioner, travelling widely at home and abroad to conduct courses, deliver lectures and adjudicate at competitions.

He was born in Liverpool in 1931, the son of John How, a clergyman who, when Martin was six, and after a period in Brighton, became primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, moving to Glasgow, where How spent most of his childhood. A music scholar at Repton School, then organ scholar of Clare College, Cambridge, he ran the college’s chapel choir of boys and adults, read music and theology and only narrowly missed being awarded a Blue for cross-country running, an activity he kept up well into his time at Addington.

After university he spent one term as a student at the RSCM when it was still at Canterbury, prior to a National Service commission in the Royal Army Service Corps for two years, where he claims that the experience was invaluable in his future career! In January 1955 he returned to the RSCM – now at Addington Palace near Croydon, former summer residence of the archbishops of Canterbury – intent on resuming his studies, but on 28 April the RSCM’s records state: “Mr M. J. R. How appointed H.Q. choirmaster”, a post he took up the following September in succession to Hubert Crook. From 1961-4 he was organist of Grimsby parish church – at the time the only parish church in England to have its own choir school – together with teaching and other musical activities, but soon returned to his former RSCM post and as Headquarters Commissioner. From 1971 until 1992 he was Commissioner for the South, then worked part-time as a Special Adviser, finally retiring in April 1994, but continuing to live in South Croydon and maintaining links with the music of Croydon Minster as Organist Laureate.

In the 1993 New Year’s Honours List he was appointed MBE “for services to church music”, and his many admirers might have felt that this was a somewhat paltry reflection of the impact and influence he had on the thousands from Britain and abroad who met him and worked with him. Perhaps his innate modesty worked against him in an age of celebrity overreaction, even in 1993.

Martin How’s natural charm and seemingly inexhaustible cheerfulness inspired his choristers as much as musical ability. At a reunion at Addington in 2013, Peter Hood, head chorister in 1963 when the college was still residential, recalled: “Martin’s secret was that he could instil discipline and we all had the greatest respect for him but he made it all such fun. I don’t think we necessarily appreciated what a wonderful thing it was that we were involved in; we just knew that we loved it and we enjoyed it. Addington Palace became our spiritual home and Mr How became our father figure and he constructed an enormous family for us.”

Martin How’s name is also familiar beyond Addington because so much of the music he composed and edited, which therefore bears his name, has a worldwide appeal – and worldwide sales. As a practising musician his aim as a composer had always been to provide practical music, appropriate to circumstances, but challenging for performers to achieve just that little bit more than perhaps they thought they could. So much of it reflects his own personal charm and modesty, but can express strong views and feelings too. As well as anthems and service settings, he wrote solo organ music, including an Elegy in memory of Dr Gerald Knight – director of the RSCM during much of How’s time there – and four sets of Pieces for Organ. Ever mindful that the RSCM’s membership includes choirs of all shapes, sizes and abilities, he also gave special attention to producing good music for limited choral resources.

A skilled accompanist, he was accompanist to the (then) Choirboy of the Year competition organized by the RSCM (sponsored by Rediffusion television) from the first competition in 1975 until 1989; in 1992 it combined with the BBC Choirgirl of the Year competition that had run concurrently since 1986, though from 1989 the RSCM competition had also included girls.


Martin John Richard How, church musician: born Liverpool 3 April 1931; educated at Repton School, Clare College Cambridge (organ scholar), Trinity College London and the Royal School of Church Music; At RSCM: Headquarters Choirmaster 1955-1961 and 1968-70, Headquarters Commissioner 1964-7 and 1970-1, Commissioner for the South 1971-92, Special Adviser 1992-4; organist of Grimsby Parish Church 1961-4; Organist Laureate of Croydon Minster 1994-[year of death]; MBE 1993; died 25 July 2022.

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