• In the Spotlight… Howarth of London

    Howarth of London... In the Spotlight | Interview

    We’re delighted to introduce our latest interview series ‘In the Spotlight’ with Take it away music shop members! Each month, you’ll get to know one of our music shops including how they started, what makes them tick and what you can expect when visiting them.
    Kicking things off is woodwind specialist Howarth of London who have been a Take it away member since 2014! We’ve been lucky enough to visit their wonderful workshop in West Sussex where they make their own oboes, cor anglais’ and oboe d’amores’. Read on to find out more…

    What is the story behind Howarth of London?

    Howarth was established in 1948 as an oboe manufacturer and initially known as ‘Howarth & Co’. The founding directors, Thomas Howarth, George Ingram and Frederik Mooney, were members from three families already known within woodwind manufacture and repair. As ‘Howarth & Co’, they quickly established a reputation for manufacturing fine quality oboes, oboes d’amore and cors anglais.

    The company became incorporated in 1951 and converted to ‘T W Howarth & Co Ltd.’ Shortly after, the shop and workshop moved to Blandford Street. In 1968, when Blandford Street was being redeveloped, Howarth moved to Chiltern Street, the address we are still at today! The manufacturing workshop moved to Sussex. By this time Howarth oboes were being played by oboists in many of the major orchestras.

    Later, the shop expanded with specialist showrooms for bassoon, clarinet, and saxophone in addition to oboe and in 2008 changed the name to ‘Howarth of London Ltd’ as we remain today.

    What can customers expect when they come to visit you?

    Howarth is a specialist woodwind music shop and woodwind instrument maker and we’re known all over the world as makers of the finest oboe, oboes d’amore and cors anglaise. Our retail showrooms are based in London and manufacturing workshop in Worthing, West Sussex where our instruments are made in our dedicated manufacturing workshop.

    The London showrooms are a bustling meeting point for players and offers a range of instruments, accessories, and woodwind sheet music. We offer the opportunity to try out instruments and accessories on site in our testing rooms, encourage and aiding players in finding the best tools to complement their playing.

    Our staff are all players and can help you however long you have been playing – or even if you have not started yet!

    two people examining some oboes at Howarth of London

    What’s the most unusual instrument in your shop?

    Currently, I think the most unusual would be our purple and black swirled oboe with gold plated keys! This instrument is one of two that have been manufactured and alongside looking very different to conventional blackwood oboes it showcases the advances in oboe manufacturing. The oboe is made of ebonite and plays to the same professional standard as our traditional professional models. It is always an eye catcher, and it has started many interesting conversations with musicians from all different backgrounds!

    Oboe from Howarth of London

    What’s been your most popular instrument over lockdown?

    We have seen a large increase in people buying and renting oboes, particularly from those who are returning to the instrument after a long break or have always wanted to play. The extra time that lockdowns have provided has given these players the opportunity to get their teeth into the oboe world.

    What additional services can customers come to you for?

    In our onsite workshop in Chiltern Street, we have highly trained and experienced technicians who offer repair, service and overhauls as well as making custom adaptations and modifications to customers’ specifications for oboe, bassoon, clarinet and saxophone as well as other woodwind instruments. You can see some of our adapted instruments such as the Small Hands Cor Anglais, Mini-Bassoon PLUS+ and Simplefit Mouthpiece for Clarinet in the Take it away Guide to Adaptive Musical Instruments. Recently, Howarth technician Paul, completed this bespoke modification to a Howarth Oboe, allowing the player to use a lyre on the middle joint:

    bespoke oboe joint allowing a lyre to be removed from the oboe

    How do you get involved in your local community?

    We frequently exhibit our instruments and products at events such as Big Double Reed Day and the Music and Drama Education Expo. We also host masterclasses in our shop led by professional musicians, aiming to help woodwind players develop their performance skills and introduce them to new products. These will always be advertised on our social channels so follow us to stay in the loop!

    We rent many instruments to schools, and along with the Take it away Scheme and the Assisted Instrument Purchase Scheme, we offer a discount to educational establishments. This helps to reduce the financial pressures of learning an instrument and therefore enable more students to begin and continue playing.

    In one sentence, why do you think music shops like yours are vital and important to your community?


    Music shops provide vital support to musicians within a community by offering resources and specialist knowledge which are vital in encouraging their progress.

    It’s been a tough year! How can the music community support you?

    Following the last lockdown during which non-essential retail shops could not be open to the public, we’re very pleased to be able to open our doors to customers again!

    We are currently booking appointments for those wishing to try instruments and are enjoying hearing customers playing music in our shops again. Our shops offer a huge range of woodwind instruments and related products, and all of our staff members are woodwind players, so we welcome anybody looking for specialist advice to come and visit us.

    And finally, why do you think payment options like the Take it away scheme are of value to your customers?

    Being a musician comes with financial pressures which are unfortunately sometimes a barrier to people taking up an instrument or purchasing the instrument model which would be most suitable for their standard. Finance options such as the Take it away scheme make it possible for people to purchase instruments who may otherwise be unable to.

    Thank you Katie!

    Tell us what you think @Takeitawaymusic 

  • ‘Endangered’ Instruments

    Would you consider playing an 'endangered' instrument?

    “The initial barriers are often physical”

    Take it away music shop member Windblowers, has the largest selection of sheet music and wind instruments in the Midlands.  The most popular instruments they sell are the saxophone, flute and clarinet, with the least popular being the tuba, French horn and the bassoon. We caught up with them to find out more about these endangered instruments.

    “They are not necessarily more difficult [to learn] nor is there less music, although there are probably not as many ‘cool tunes’ for the tuba and bassoon to play as with the popular instruments. They are big and expensive and can be difficult for smaller children to handle.”

    “The least popular instruments can also be the most popular”

    As any musician or music teacher will tell you, the best way to make quick progress on your instrument is to practice, practice, practice. And if you can, start playing with others.  If you play an unpopular instrument, you’ll often find more opportunities to do this than you might think.

    “These instruments are always in demand from a playing point of view,” says Elaine. “As there are fewer players, there are more playing opportunities in bands and orchestras. More playing means quicker progress.”

    “There is still a demand, but the market is changing”

    “Sales have remained reasonably stable across the board. The decline in music education has had a negative impact on the ‘beginner’ market in recent years, but we are seeing many advancing players up-grading existing instruments. Also, a rise in adult beginners and people returning to playing after years away from it.”

    “The future: support from authorities is crucial”

    There are several initiatives being run by music education hubs around the country to encourage minority instrument take-up, but like so many areas of music education, it often depends where you live.

    Leicestershire Music Hub’s scheme is a brilliant example of what can be achieved with concentrated effort. They had a number of instruments available which were not being used, so they launched a campaign in 2014 to encourage interest. With help from a professional bassoonist, they put a promotional video together, and in the space of a year the number of bassoonists receiving tuition rose from a handful to over 50.  They are expanding this approach to the oboe, trombone, French horn and double bass.

    Berkshire Maestros has been running a bassoon program since 2008, and invested in mini bassoons as well as full size ones, to help children start at the same time as any other wind instrument – rather than wait until they are bigger.

    Other hubs running campaigns include Buckinghamshire Music Trust, Cumbria Music Service (Oboe, bassoon, cello) Newham Music (French horn) Cornwall Music Hub (bassoon, double bass, French horn, oboe, euphonium amongst others).

    Get inspired!

    Inspiration to learn a musical instrument sometimes comes from knowing a bit more about it or hearing it played on a song you like. Although the oboe and bassoon feature rarely in popular music, they have popped up in more places that you may think.


    Here’s some insights into these instruments along with some facts that may surprise you…


    The oboe is a double reed instrument. A double reed consists of two flattened blades of bamboo that produce sound through the vibrations of one blade against the other. Despite its minority instrument status, ironically the oboe is one of the most important instruments in the orchestra as it is used for tuning. In the early days of orchestras, instruments were not standardized as they are today, so one orchestra could differ from another in terms of instruments. But oboes were almost always present, and its bright, rather penetrating sound was easy to hear, and its pitch was more stable than strings, so they became the standard instrument for tuning, particularly in the absence of a piano.

    Listen to the oboe, featured throughout all of these songs

    🔊 Original Emmerdale theme tune

    🔊 Kiss from a Rose – Seal

    🔊 Handbags and Gladrags – Stereophonics

    🔊 One Day I’ll Fly Away – Randy Crawford



    Like the oboe, the bassoon has a double reed, which is attached to a curved metal mouthpiece called a “crook” or “bocal” which is joined to the main part of the instrument. The instrument is quite heavy. Some players have a neckstrap around their neck to support the weight, but usually they use a seat strap that connects at the bottom of the boot and the strap goes across the floor.
    The bassoon has the odd distinction of being the only instrument in the orchestra that requires every finger to play. Any other instrument could be played in some way using only one hand, however a bassoonist needs all of his/her fingers and thumbs to play a chromatic scale up a single octave.

    Listen to the bassoon

    🔊 Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (intro and every chorus)


    French horn

    The French horn isn’t actually French, though it is a horn. Due to its shape, you play it in front of you, but the sound comes out behind you.
    To make a sound, the player buzzes his/her lips into a cone-shaped mouthpiece. If you were to watch a French hornist play, you would see that they keep the right hand in the bell all the time. This helps the instrument with tuning and tone production, giving it a haunting and distant sound. The French horn player can also place the hand tightly inside the bell for a special effect called “stopped horn.”

    Listen to the French horn

    🔊 John Williams – Superman theme

    🔊 Alexander Courage – Star Trek theme

    🔊 Chicago – If you Leave Me Now

    French horn

    Double bass

    The double bass is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra. It’s so called due to the fact that its initial function was to double the bass line of large ensembles. It is commonly used in jazz, dance music, popular music, and folk music. Military and concert bands across the globe use it.

    An obvious drawback to learning the double bass is its size, however it can be obtained in different sizes. Most people start on a 1/2 size (although there is a smaller “mini-bass” available) which can be managed well by the average 12-year-old. A 3/4 size bass will last you the rest of your educational life, and in fact some players never bother to move up to a full-size bass – these can be very big and unwieldy. Many young players start at 11 or 12, but there is also quite a tradition of players coming to the bass fairly late, perhaps transferring from another instrument when they realise that there are more opportunities on the bass.

    Listen to the double bass

    🔊 Esperanza Spalding – On The Sunny Side of The Street

    🔊 Lev Weksler -Flight of the Bumble Bee

    Double bass


    The euphonium, which means: “producing nice sounds” is a brass instrument that can be silver or brass in colour. It is very similar to the baritone horn, but it is different because the tubes are wider and it is bigger. The euphonium makes low sounds, similar to the trombone. The musicians make the sound by blowing into the instrument and “buzzing” with their lips.
    You can hear the euphonium in a variety of groups, but concert/symphonic bands, orchestra and military bands are probably the most popular ensembles you’ll find them in.

    Listen to the euphonium

    🔊 Jackie DeShannon – What the World Needs Now

    🔊 Paganini – Carnival of Venice


    Find out more about Take it away and how this Arts Council supported scheme can help you. Search for your nearest music shop member by following the links below.

    Tell us what you think @TakeitawayMusic

    By Natalie Bedeau