Chrisman, for whom the theater at Piedra Vista High School is partly named, passed away Saturday at the Namaste House, an assisted living home in Farmington, in the company of family and friends. Earlier last week, former students visited him to play for him in his last moments.
"That's the only way we could pay him back — was to go play for him," said Tennille Taylor, a former violin student and now a violin instructor herself.
His influence, however, stretched far beyond those who knew him best.
"He was a very generous man, not only to students of his, but everyone around him," said Kurt Chrisman, Howard's son, who now teaches orchestra at Piedra Vista High School.
Howard Chrisman grew up in Alamosa, Colo., as the youngest of three children. His father played the fiddle, but as a young child he wanted to play the clarinet. His family could not afford the instrument, so he got a job as a paper boy and saved up to buy his first instrument.
"He really understood the meaning, the value of music to our soul," Kurt Chrisman said.
Howard Chrisman went to Colorado State College, now University of Northern Colorado where he received his bachelor of arts, bachelor of music, and his master's degrees in art. Soon after he met his wife, Barbara Bristol, at a social, just before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II.
He trained as a B-24 bomber pilot.
Lt. Chrisman was scheduled for a mission to the Japanese coast. That mission was canceled in August 1945 after the atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima.
In 1951, after his service had ended, he moved here to develop a music program at Farmington High School with Angelo Turano, a former choir director at the school. Turano's and Chrisman's names grace Piedra Vista's theater.
Chrisman directed the school orchestra from 1951 to 1985, and the school band from 1957 to 1972.
"He had to start the Kelly Greens because he had such a small band," Kurt Chrisman said.
Over the years, Howard Chrisman's influence kept growing. He was recognized for his patience, soft-spoken manner, and dry sense of humor both by students and colleagues. He also was helping many of the school programs grow.
"He was very supportive of both students and staff," said Tommy Brown, a former teacher and head coach of Farmington High School's football and baseball teams. "He would do whatever he could do to get his program to support our program, and our program to support his program."
Chrisman embedded himself into the local music community anywhere he could.
He was the choir director at the First United Methodist Church for several years, and served as the music coordinator for the Farmington Municipal School District. He also served as the president of the San Juan Community Concert Association and founded the San Juan Symphony. He was its first musical director.
His diligence and passion did not go unrecognized. In 1991, he was inducted into the Farmington High School Hall of Fame. Only three years later, he was inducted into the New Mexico Music Educators Association Hall of Fame.
"I don't know what to say. He absolutely changed my life," said Taylor.
Until about two years ago, Howard continued to teach private lessons outside of school, even while living in the assisted living home. Taylor took on many of Howard's students that he could not keep teaching.
"I have a very special bond with those students because we share the same teacher," said Taylor, who recalled her first private lessons as an 8-year-old in 1986.
"I was a completely tone deaf, horrible student," she said. "He never got mad."
Memorial services will be held at 2:00 p.m. Saturday at the First United Methodist Church, 808 N. Monterey in Farmington.