20 Questions: Pizza toast meets a 239-year-old violin in musician Jamie Howe

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: 18-year-old violinist Jamie Howe from Lisburn who has been appointed the new leader of the Ulster Youth Orchestra

18-year-old Jamie Howe, new leader of the Ulster Youth Orchestra
18-year-old Jamie Howe, new leader of the Ulster Youth Orchestra 18-year-old Jamie Howe, new leader of the Ulster Youth Orchestra
20 Questions: Pizza toast meets a 239-year-old violin in musician Jamie Howe
20 Questions: Pizza toast meets a 239-year-old violin in musician Jamie Howe

Lisburn musician and keen sportsman Jamie Howe


Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

I always start the day with lots of water and I aim for a nutritious breakfast. During lockdown, I’ve tried to get my first practice session started before 10am


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

For breakfast, I’d have some cereal and drink plenty of water to rehydrate.


Lunch would be something like a chicken and salad sandwich.

Evening meal?

My mum would cook up something delicious. My personal favourite is her homemade tomato and chilli enchiladas with Greek salad.


Have you been able to work from home – if so, how have you found it?

Well, school has continued in a different and interesting format since I came home in March. My online lessons have continued and I’ve had plenty of time for practice. I was part of a side-by-side chamber music project with professional musicians, so we quickly had to adapt to online lessons and performances. Everyone played their part and the end-of-year online concert was truly memorable. I have been awarded a place at the Royal Academy of Music in London in September, so I am looking forward to continuing my studies there.


Best/easiest lockdown meal?

I think the easiest meal is pizza toast (toasted bread with grilled cheese, oregano and a dash of ketchup) as it’s quick and tasty, but I’d say the best lockdown meal has been lentil lasagne. We eat a fair number of vegetarian dishes at home as my mum is not a fan of red meat.


Weekend treat?

From time to time, we’d have a roast chicken dinner with all the trimmings on a Sunday, sometimes followed by apple crumble or my nana’s chocolate cake. On a Saturday we might treat ourselves to a pizza.


How have you kept physically and mentally fit during lockdown?

To keep physically fit, I’ve been going for cycles along the tow path from Lisburn into Belfast and the other day, I enjoyed a cycling hike in Tollymore Forest Park. I find outdoor exercise refreshing, both physically and mentally.


What has been your daily outdoor exercise?

If I’m not out on my bike, I’d go for a walk in my local area and sometimes bring a rugby ball with me. I’m a really keen sportsman and always enjoy being active.


How do you relax?

I enjoy taking on my dad and brother in snooker, pool and table tennis competitions.


Teetotal or tipple?

I’m not really a big drinker and since the lockdown, I’ve hardly had anything.


What book are you currently reading?

I’m not reading a book at the moment. I prefer to practise, listen to all types of music or watch masterclasses online to learn from famous musicians.


Best Netflix?

During the past few months, I’ve had time to enjoy some of Ricky Gervais’ comedy series like The Office and Extras. I also thoroughly enjoyed the football-based series called The English Game.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself?

I guess I haven’t learnt an awful lot about myself since lockdown, but I have come to appreciate more the importance of being understanding towards and considerate of others, as we all muddle our way through this pandemic. It can be such a worrying and stressful time for many and I like to try to remain calm, yet empathetic towards those who find it more difficult. Throughout lockdown, my family and I posted numerous musical videos on Facebook of little performances. These proved a source of huge encouragement both to our viewers and to us, as a family. Music has played a vital role in our family during lockdown.


On a scale of one to 10, where have your been in relation to cabin fever and where are you now?

I’d like to think I was sitting around a seven or eight out of 10, so I guess there’s room for improvement. At Chetham’s [School of Music, Manchester] I loved the buzz of playing in the school football team with the other lads. Although I don’t think we ever won a match, we had great fun trying!


What are the three things you missed most during the lockdown?

I really missed finishing my second and final year at Chetham’s – it would have been so nice to enjoy the leavers’ traditions the school has to offer. Also, I have thoroughly missed live chamber music and I can’t wait to play music with others again – in person. I also missed seeing my grandparents on a regular basis.


Where did you go as restrictions lifted?

I guess it was nice to see the shops opening again and to go down town and see a bit of life on ‘Main Street’, rather than a ghost town.


Biggest gripe?

Not being able to go to live music concerts.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Sure! The future of live music performances in front of a live audience is far from certain and I imagine many musicians will be having to create a more versatile approach to making music. I can only hope that things will improve significantly in the near future.


Any new skills or hobbies?

As part of my school projects, I quickly had to learn how to master an editing programme called Davinci Resolve. This proved extremely useful and I’m grateful to have gained this skill as I suspect I will continue to use it in the future.


What would you like to see change for good when this is all over?

I would like to see the continuation of a more community-focused society where folk look out for one another more and no-one gets forgotten. In lockdown, we have seen how willing people are to help each other and I would hope this might continue in the future.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

Even though I am only 18, I am not at all complacent when it comes to this horrible virus and I will continue to do everything I can to try to avoid catching it. Life is precious and I want to make the most of every God-given minute.

Jamie, who is also a member of the viola section of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, has been presented by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland with the famous Milton Violin, a 239-year-old violin made by renowned Neapolitan violin maker Joseph Gagliano, to be played throughout his tenure as leader of the UYO.