Original Naden Band member pipes in at anniversary concert


At 91 years old, musician and former Naden Band member, Doug Howell still has the lungs to play the Euphonium, a baritone-voiced brass instrument. The senior musician practiced with the Naden Band of the Royal Canadian Navy before joining them on stage Sept. 11 for a celebratory concert honouring 75 years of band music.

If you watched the Naden Band of the Royal Canadian Navy’s 75th anniversary performance you most likely didn’t realize that furiously piping away in the on stage was a musician who was there from its early days.

Doug Howell, 91, a Euphonium player from Comox, was one of the five original Nadan Band members who returned for the band’s four-day diamond anniversary celebration.

He was also the oldest to perform at the Sept. 11 concert at The Royal Theatre.

“The house was packed, sold out, it was just fantastic,” said Howell.

“It was also like déjà vu for me. I was there at that same theatre 75 years ago playing concerts every second Sunday night during the war – it really was like stepping back into the past.”

The band’s oldest surviving original member is 97-year-old John Tomczak of Victoria.

While Tomczak didn’t play in the concert, he attended the anniversary performance and gave it a rave review.

“This was the best concert I have ever heard,” said Tomczak, who played Clarinet with the band from 1940 to 1945.

“It doesn’t get any better than this.”

The other three original band members at the anniversary celebration were trumpet players Meredith ‘Rommy’ Rombough, 90, of Russell, Ont. (1944-1945), Don Scott, 87, of Victoria, (1949-1959), and trombonist Ed Rowley of Victoria (1944-45).

According to the band’s director of music, Lt(N) Matthew Clark, the legacy of Howell, Tomczak and the other three originals has helped “push others in the band to do great things.”

“Complete amazement and inspiration to think that someday some of us could still be playing into our 90s,” said Lt(N) Clark. “It’s our passion to be like Doug and he embodies what we want to be.”

Howell was born and raised in Victoria and took to music during The Great Depression after encouragement from his parents.

He joined the band in 1942 when he was 18 at the height of the Second World War, and played with them until 1945.

Back then it was the Big Band tunes and the music of jazz legends Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey, and a host of others, who were the big hits with the crowd.

At the time, explains Howell, live music was an integral part of life at CFB Esquimalt and across North America.

The Naden Band participated in everything from formal concerts around town, parades, morning marches, and cross-province Victory Bond Tours says Howell.

“It was a an amazing experience for me to be part of the band 73 years ago, but when I see the experience, quality and professionalism of the band today it blows my mind,” says Howell.

After the war, Howell returned to his job at BC Tel, where he worked a total of 40 years before retiring in 1979.

During that time he played in the Greater Victoria Concert Band and Chief and Petty Officers Association Band. He still plays today with the Comox Valley Concert Band.

“Music is a big part of my life and a passion, and I won’t quit until they lay me out,” says Howell jokingly. “I never quit playing all those years and stayed at it.”

Playing has kept him healthy and given him that zest for life. It also helped him meet the love of his life, his wife of 65 years, Helen Howell.

The two first met Nov. 5, 1944, while Howell was on a Victory Bond Tour in the Kootenays, and they were inseparable from that point on.

“I met her off chance, it was fate I guess,” says Howell.

Although Helen died three years ago, Howell said he vowed to keep on playing despite the sadness.

“She heard nothing but music our entire life, and music and the bands I played in were really a big part of her life too, I said to myself ‘you don’t want to quit’, you have to keep going.”


Peter Mallett
Staff writer

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  1. Mark Hamm says:

    Doug is a tremendous musician and my inspiration from playing with him in the Nelson City Band. I hope I can come close to his achievements.

    Mark Hamm
    Williams Lake, BC

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