Howe generated thunderous foundation for Auburn Symphony

Fellow musicians mourn death of percussionist whose body was found Tuesday after search
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - For many past and present members of the Auburn Symphony, the search for a missing senior in the Clipper Gap area this past week took on personal meaning. Instead of a disheveled 71-year-old man with the vacant gaze of someone suffering from dementia pictured in a photo released by the Placer County Sheriff’s Office to help in the three-day search, they remember the distinctive thunder of a musician’s well-rehearsed timpani parts and a man who loved to bring his music to children as well as classical music lovers. And turning back the chapters of Gary Howe’s life even further reveals a richly varied life beyond the drumbeats that provided the foundation for the Auburn orchestra in its early years. Howe’s body was found by searchers Tuesday morning after an extensive search and rescue operation started after he was first reported missing late Sunday. The body was found in heavy brush less than a half-mile from his home, the Sheriff’s Office reported. Howe served as principle percussionist with the Auburn orchestra from 1990 into the early part of the 2000s. As well, he played drums in more than 30 different musical theater productions locally. Howe was one of the early proponents of the symphony’s program to bring music into local schools. Miccie McNee, who worked with Howe on the outreach program, said Wednesday that he was always very happy to take part and share his love of music. “Most people would bring a drum but he would bring along more – and then pretend to play thunder for music from ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” McNee said. With a distinctive silver beard and long white hair, Howe was a presence at symphony concerts as he waited for his sporadic percussion parts – whether it was the tinkle of a triangle or the booming of a kettle drum. “He was always enthusiastic about playing music with the Auburn Symphony,” recalled Sue Dings, a founding member of the symphony. “He was one of the first to play for the schools, bringing all his drumming equipment – bells, whistles, et cetera, to show the children – who were always enthralled with his demonstration.” Away from the symphony, Howe built a career around creating computer software. He held bachelor’s degrees in both mathematics and fine arts. Howe spent 20 years working in the Silicon Valley, including stints writing software for space and military applications. That work briefly touched down on early global positioning satellite system and Hubble space telescope projects. Jazz, as well as classical music, earned Howe’s attention in those days. He headed a jazz quartet in the San Jose area, according to a biography he wrote for the Auburn Symphony. Howe also opened and owned the jazz club La Boheme in Saratoga. The club welcomed performers ranging from Chet Baker and Tuck and Patti to Bobby McFerrin. The club would feature classical chamber music every Thursday – and opera every Halloween. In his later years, Howe would suffer from dementia and vision loss. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Dena Erwin said that 50 searchers were looking for Howe when his body was found. An autopsy was to determine how he died and when. The coroner’s office had not released its findings by late Wednesday.