Walter G. Howe, 72, a retired musician who played with the National Symphony and National Gallery orchestras and taught in D.C. public schools for more than 20 years, died of meningitis Monday at Montgomery General Hospital.

Mr. Howe was born in Stoneham, Mass., and graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He performed on radio and worked as a free-lance musician in Boston before moving to Washington in the early 1930s and joining the National Symphony Orchestra as a timpanist.

He was the premier timpanist with the symphony until the early 1940s, when he resigned to work as a welder at the Navy Weapons Plant during World War II. In 1946, he joined the D.C. public school system as a band and orchestra leader and taught at Paul Junior High and Coolidge Senior High schools before retiring in 1967.

Mr. Howe, who lived in Silver Spring, earned a bachelor's degree from George Washington University and a master's degree in music education from Catholic University.

He performed as a timpanist and percussionist with the National Gallery Orchestra here for more than 20 years and had recorded with both the National Gallery and National Symphony orchestras. He was a life member of Local 161-710 of the American Federation of Musicians.

Mr. Howe's wife, the former May Agnes Rodenhiser, died in 1979.

Survivors include a son, Warren P., of Washington; a daughter, Mary Christine Schnittger of Cincinnati, and seven grandchildren.