Inspiring Okeechobee: Mr. Bowen’s Opus

OKEECHOBEE — This week’s inspiring story could easily be called the Music Man or we could remake and rename Mr. Holland’s Opus. He is so revered by students and colleagues alike, he rivals others known only by one name. Rock and roll might have Elvis and Madonna. Okeechobee has Bowen! For those of you who do not know Bowen, his real name is Chris Bowen and he is responsible for continuing the love of music that our elementary music teachers instill in many of our grade school students. Mr. Bowen has the added challenge of teaching music at a time when kids are struggling to figure out who they are in middle school. Most of us don’t even know what to do with our own kids during those awkward years, yet Mr. Bowen willingly goes to school every day to spend his time teaching music to about 150 middle school children.

If you have ever looked around Okeechobee, you will soon realize that but for the public-school system, our children have very limited exposure to the arts.

Most of our children cannot afford the cost of instruments or private lessons, thus the learning must occur within the confines of the public-school setting.

Chris’ wife Jenny Bowen, who teaches at Okeechobee High School says, “We met as students at Florida Southern College. I was a vocalist and he, a percussionist.

To have someone of the caliber of Mr. Bowen here in Okeechobee is a blessing for sure. Mr. Bowen obtained his Master’s Degree in Percussion Performance at the University of South Florida. Of course, I enlisted some help for this week’s article from a former student, OHS band director, Clint LaFlam and Bowen’s wife Jenny.

Former student, Ayan Desai, now a junior at Okeechobee High School, recalls “Mr. Bowen has always been there for me, no matter when or what it was. Mr. Bowen was always able to support me.” Desai remembers Mr. Bowen’s support when he did not perform as well as expected at a solo and ensemble competition. He notes that Mr. Bowen has “always been there for me being one of my biggest advocates.”

Desai continues, “He has inspired me to take on music, even if it wasn’t my end goal in life at the time. Now I am the band captain at Okeechobee High School, and it all started with him. He was the one who showed me what a life full of music could be.” Additionally, Desai credits Bowen’s influence as his primary reason for staying in band and having a great network of friends. Desai notes that band and the influence of Mr. Bowen have helped him to make decisions about his future and kept him focused both academically and musically. The interesting thing about Ayan Desai is that he credits Mr. Bowen for encouraging him to inspire and help others, and I can attest to that! Desai says, “Having a director like him [Bowen] was inspiring to me. No matter what I do, I really could not thank him enough.”

Okeechobee High School Band Director, Clint LaFlam and Chris have been friends for fifteen years, having met in college at Florida Southern, where they were both majoring in music. Clint notes, “After graduating together, he [Chris] continued his education at USF. When the position at Osceola Middle School opened, we spoke about it and he decided he wanted to shape young minds with a love of music.” As we would say, and the rest is history! Clint continues, “Having Bowen in Okeechobee has been a huge boost to the band program county wide. He grew the OMS band program from around 40 students to over 200. Not only has he built the numbers but the quality of performance by the program has grown to a consistent Superior level.”

Wife Jenny, who teaches at Okeechobee High School says, “We met as students at Florida Southern College. I was a vocalist and he, a percussionist.

When performing on stage, he always looked at home. He inspired me and his other peers to be better musicians and to create art! Over a decade later, he continues to inspire me and motivate me in every aspect. Our two boys, William and Jameson adore him and aspire to be like him when they grow up.

Music is a huge part of our day-to-day lives. Chris performs with various professional orchestras and musical groups around the state, while putting all his talent and knowledge into his full-time job as Director of the Osceola Middle School Bands. He has built quite the magnificent program since starting fresh out of USF Graduate School in 2008. It is beautiful to witness how he inspires his band students just as he inspired me when we met and how he continues to inspire his own children. We are so blessed to call him ours.

Two of my children have been students of Mr. Bowen, and knowing where they started as 5th and 6th graders to their final 8th grade concert it is just phenomenal how Mr. Bowen pours his heart and soul into his students and they respond. I always say that going to a concert where Mr. Bowen is the conductor, you hear middle school students performing like you are at a high school concert! While he pours into his students by day, he leaves to go to the high school and continue to work with students in the OHS Brahman band.

Bowen has arranged music for some of the marching shows and has some of the most talented and skilled percussionists in the state of Florida. Thank you, Mr. Bowen for writing your “Opus” here and inspiring our kids to love music.

Mr. Chris Bowen. While he pours into his students by day, he leaves to go to the high school and continue to work with students in the OHS Brahman band.

Leah Suarez is a freelance writer.

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