When he was 15, Jonathan Bowman sat in a lecture recital given by renowned pianist and scholar Logan Skelton.
“He played recordings that Bartok had made of peasant music in the countryside, then he sat down at the piano and showed how Bartok had woven the melodies into his compositions,” Bowman remembers. “All of Dr. Skelton’s knowledge went into making the performance amazing for the audience.”
For the first time, Dr. Bowman knew what he wanted to do when he grew up.
“Classical music can feel inaccessible to people, but it shouldn’t be that way,” says Bowman. “I wanted to be the kind of performer who uses my knowledge to make this music meaningful to everyone, not just the usual classical music crowd.”
While studying piano performance in graduate school at the Eastman School of Music, Bowman put in his time doing the traditional recitals and competitions that build a musician’s résumé. His favorite performances, though, were the community outreach lecture recitals that he put together on the side.
“One time I had a roomful of school kids drawing the pictures that came to their minds as I played a transcription of Stravinsky’s “Firebird”. There was a lot of crazy energy in that room,” Bowman remembers.
Another favorite memory is of Chopin in an inner city soup kitchen. “My wife said that when the piano started to play it had a visibly calming effect on the diners, who were mostly homeless men. It was an honor to perform for them,” Bowman said.
After receiving his doctorate, Bowman wanted to teach at a university that encouraged students to love music and share it in an accessible way.
“When I interviewed at EIU, I knew that I wanted to be here,” says Bowman. “The music faculty is full of incredible musicians who are also friendly and down-to-earth. That’s not always the case at a great music school.”
Bowman also noticed a difference among students.
“The students here support each other. When you feel like your classmates are rooting for you, it’s so much easier to succeed.”
Dr. Bowman teaches both piano performance majors and music education majors whose instrument of emphasis is piano. Once a week, all the pianists meet and play for each other to get practice performing in front of others.
“It’s amazing how comfortable the students get as they perform for each other. It frees them up to connect with other audiences in other places.”