My friend Howard Milner, who died of cancer on 6 March at the age of 58, will be remembered with enormous affection by many hundreds of people – who heard him sing, who learned from his remarkable teaching, who worked with him as colleagues or who valued him as someone with a supreme gift of friendship.
Born on 24 February 1953, Howard was a chorister at Coventry Cathedral, won a music scholarship to Monkton Combe School and went on to read English at Cambridge. It was there that I met – and briefly taught – him, abrilliant student with an ability forserious appreciation of poetry that never deserted him. He went on to make his career in music, though, putting his wonderful tenor voice to the service of singing.
He became a member of Swingle II, the jazz vocal octet. He spent several years in Paris with the Group Vocal de France, specialising in contemporary music. And back in London he sang in West End shows and took on commercial engagements.
But after a serious motorbike accident in 1982 he decided to take the opera course at the Guildhall School, won several major prizes and went onto carve out an international careerat Glyndebourne, the ENO, theRoyal Opera House, Opera Factory, Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, Paris Chatelet, Barcelona, Aix-en-Provence and Menton. His opera and concert performances have been widely recorded.
The combination of a fine voice, a literary enthusiasm, an ability with languages, and a serious dedication to helping others in his field was always going to lead to more, however. In 1994 he was appointed Professor of Singing at the Birmingham Conservatoire, and then in 1997 he took up a teaching post at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He became an outstanding teacher, loved by his pupils, who would travel from all over the world to be taught by him. He had thought deeply about the way the voice worked, about the joy and spontaneity of the act of singing and about how to draw the very best out of remarkable singers. The quality of their singing will long stand as a testament to Howard's life and work.
Howard loved the natural world, and would spend many hours in wild places from Scotland to Northumbria scanning the horizon for birds. He retained his love of literature to the end. He had a combination of seriousness and impishness which was utterly infectious. He leaves behind a mother, father, brother, two sisters, two daughters, and countless friends whose lives he inspired and touched.