May Howlett was born 1931, in Subiaco, Western Australia. She won various scholarships including a secondary studentship to study Music at Melbourne University Conservatorium (majoring in Pianoforte and Singing), graduating in 1954 with a Bachelor of Music, and obtaining a Diploma of Education the following year. She received extra-mural coaching in composition with Arthur Nickson.
Howlett received her first commission in 1971, for a cantata to be performed at the inaugural concert of the Canberra New Music Society. She was active in recital, frequently on ABC radio, in productions of the Canberra Repertory Company and the newly-formed Opera Group, as well as in running a high-profile teaching practice, and being involved with the Canberra School of Music. Six Meditations on the Katha Upanishad was well-received, and she was offered the first composition scholarship at the School.
In 1973 she toured with Young Opera for the Arts Council of NSW and appeared in an ABC TV opera production Malcolm Williamson's Violins of St. Jacques. Howlett then turned to acting and for approximately the next twenty years she appeared in many top-rating TV productions and series, six films, at various music clubs as well as on stage productions ranging from contemporary drama to satirical revue, from Leagues Club musicals and cabaret to touring as Barry Humphries as associate artist/pianist, and taking her original one-woman show to Carnegie Recital Hall in New York.
In 1987, Howlett was able to turn once more to composition. Another choral piece, Ashes of Roses,was requested by Gaudeamus for its Bicentennial tour. The live recording was broadcast repeatedly on composer programs on 2MBS-FM along with her other compositions such as, the children's version of the opera The Boy Who Wasn't There, and the Flute Suite Exhibits, now featured on CDs by separate artists.
1988 saw Howlett involved in major productions for the NSW Department of Education in a variety of capacities. In 1989, she designed and initiated two State wide programs in drama — the State Drama Camp (1989) and the State Drama Festival (1990).
In 1996, she was the recipient, with Audley Green, harpsichordist, of an artist-in-residency at “Bundanon”, Arthur Boyd's Trust property on the Shoalhaven, to workshop Howlett's work-in-progress, Fantasia, for harpsichord, viola and cello. Along with a number of other instrumental works, such as the string quartet To Times Recalled, the Fanta-si-a was published by Grevillea editions and is available through the Australian Music Centre.
In 2006, Howlett graduated with a MA in Music from Macquarie University with a thesis entitled 'The Production of a Contemporary Chamber Opera', which was accompanied by a revised score, with piano reduction and workshop recording of her chamber opera, The Boy Who Wasn't There.
Howlett seeks to explore the more unusual aspects of an instrument (including the voice - e.g. Chataka Bird, the last movement of her song cycle Secrets, for soprano voice) as in Sacred Grove, for bassoon and marimba, without straining for attenuated effects, although some of her compositions may, if occasion demands, challenge her philosophy.
See all works by May in our shop