Airman First Class Chester Howard, from La Verne, California, began playing the clarinet at the age of 8 in the Oak Mesa Elementary School Beginner Band. His interest in music led him to study privately with Don Blasick and audition for the Claremont Youth Symphony Orchestra, of which he was a member for 6 years. As a teenager, he participated in the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association’s (SCSBOA) honor bands and orchestras, as well as the California Orchestra Directors Association’s (CODA) all-state orchestras. As a resident of Southern California, he was able to audition for and attend the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA), a prestigious tuition-free public high school for students of nearly all artistic disciplines. During that time he received private instruction in classical clarinet from Yehuda Gilad and Helen Goode-Castro, while discovering his love of other woodwinds such as the bass clarinet and the saxophone. Chester also participated in several summer music programs, including the Wildwood Music Camp and the Interlochen Center for the Arts’ World Youth Symphony Orchestra. At Interlochen he found himself so taken with engaging like-minded students, the beauty of upstate Michigan, and fantastic instruction from clarinetist Deborah Chodacki that he decided to stay for the school year at the Interlochen Arts Academy for his final year of high school where he studied with Nathan Williams.
For his undergraduate work, Chester studied at the Eastman School of Music in the studio of Jon Manasse. He actively participated in the contemporary music scene at Eastman by participating in the student run OSSIA ensemble and a particularly memorable collaboration with composer-professor Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon and choreographer Garth Fagan in 2007. Chester undertook a Master of Music degree at Stony Brook University in the studio of Alan Kay. While there he won the Ackerman Chamber Music Competition with both a piano trio and a wind quintet while also clinching a victory in the school’s concerto competition with the Copland Clarinet Concerto. He also had the opportunity to attend masterclasses at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center with clarinetist David Schifrin and pianist Leon Fleisher. Following Stony Brook, Chester pursued a Doctor of Music Degree from McGill University in the studio of Simon Aldrich. While studying in Montreal, he actively freelanced, was appointed principal clarinet of the Pronto Musica chamber orchestra under Alexis Hauser, and taught clarinet at the Camp Musical d’Asbestos during the summers. He joined the United States Air Force Academy Band in January 2019.