Issaquah Philharmonic conductor retires baton

August 30, 2011

By Quinn Eddy

As Duane Bowen conducted the band at Louisiana State University in the school’s fight song, the cymbal player sneezed and put a gash in his forehead requiring several stitches. Unforgettable moments like that have made maestro Bowen’s career as colorful as it is rich with passion for the art of music.

Duane Bowen holds a commemorative baton given to him by the Issaquah Philharmonic for his service to the group. By Quinn Eddy

At the Issaquah Philharmonic’s final concert of the season June 15 at Faith United Methodist Church, conductor Bowen, 81, announced his retirement from the group. Bowen had been conductor for 12 years.

“I’ve been at it awhile. My hearing isn’t as acute as I would like it to be — the curses of getting old,” Bowen said.

A new group is born

Originally, the group derived from the Sammamish Symphony. When the group moved practices and performances to Skyline High School, a small collection of musicians refused to migrate, deciding to remain at the symphony’s original location at Providence Point. Bowen was asked by former Sammamish Symphony member and founder of the Issaquah Philharmonic Joyce Cunningham to lead a reading orchestra. That was the birth of the Issaquah Philharmonic.

“Dr. Bowen is one of those rare human beings whose deep knowledge of music and wonderful performance skills bring out the best from his amateur musicians,” said June Allison, violinist for the Issaquah Philharmonic.

At first, the group wasn’t doing concerts and only played for the joy of music. From six members the Issaquah Philharmonic grew to nearly 40. Their first concerts were held at Collin Hall in Providence Point.

“As we grew, it got too crowded for us and our audience,” Bowen said. “We moved to the Village Theatre and held performances at churches. The churches gave a more intimate feel.”

Besides featuring musicians from Issaquah, members of the Issaquah Philharmonic have come from Renton, Hobart, Carnation, Preston, Mercer Island, Seattle, Everett, Marysville, Enumclaw and Goldbar.

“They come because of their love of music, and they enjoy playing and performing,” Bowen said.

As the group grew, members constantly improved their abilities and sound, all while upping the difficulty of the music played.

“I love the people,” Bowen said. “It was so much fun working with them and teaching them the music we played. Frankly, this was probably the most enjoyable part of my career.”

From a saxophone and Louisiana…

Get involved

Issaquah Philharmonic

The Issaquah Philharmonic is accepting applications for the conductor’s position. Email Musicians interested in playing with the group should email the personnel manager at

Bowen’s love for music began in the fourth grade when his dad bought him a saxophone. In high school, he switched from saxophone to bassoon. Originally from Baton Rouge, La., Bowen got first-hand experience conducting in high school and college as a drum major. Attending Louisiana State University, Bowen received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education.

Originally, his plan was to become a professional player, but he was inspired to teach after having the opportunity to play with the New Orleans Pops. In eight weeks, the group played 24 concerts.

“Teaching music allowed me to pass on the enjoyment and the art of music,” Bowen said.

During college, he played in jazz bands. It was during that time he began playing in symphony orchestras.

“It was something I enjoyed doing so I stayed with it,” he said.

After 13 years of teaching high school band and orchestra in Louisiana and Mississippi, Bowen moved on to teach music at Eastern New Mexico University. There, he spent 27 years teaching woodwinds and serving as assistant band and orchestra director.

While teaching in New Mexico, Bowen was given a sabbatical to pursue his doctorate in music education from the University of Northern Colorado. Bowen’s thesis was “Pertinent Factors in the Development of Selected Connoisseurs of Music.” It focused on when in life and why people develop an appreciation for music. Upon receiving his doctorate, Bowen returned to teaching at Eastern New Mexico University.

“It wasn’t my original plan. The dean kept saying ‘Why don’t you go get your doctorate?’” Bowen said. “I had to put up or shut up.”

Bowens favorite piece of music is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

“It’s just a great piece of music,” Bowen said. “What has the most impact is the opening.”

…to ‘great satisfaction’

Bowen is currently occupied as a moderator at the Community Church of Issaquah. Duties of the moderator include presiding over church business meetings, councils, boards and committees. He is also involved in two woodwind quintets and will remain as a board member for the Issaquah Philharmonic.

“I definitely still have my hand in it,” he said. “On occasion, I’ll perform a saxophone solo at church.”

In the future, Bowen plans to continue teaching adult Sunday school at the Community Church and occupy his time with his favorite hobby, woodworking.

Bowen said his best memory of the Issaquah Philharmonic is the group’s last performance. They played Mendelssohn’s “Reformation Symphony” and Weber’s “Invitation to the Dance.”

“These are two very difficult numbers. They played them so musically that we were all thrilled,” Bowen said. “Some of the orchestra players didn’t realize the impact of their playing till they heard the CD. I ended my career with great satisfaction.”

Darlene Rose, concertmaster of the Issaquah Philharmonic, said she will miss his excellent conducting skills.

“His ability to work with every person on their level and teach us how to play the music was a strength that no other maestro I’ve worked with in my 25 years as a violinist has done,” Rose said.

Glen Ferguson, trumpet player for the Issaquah Philharmonic, said he enjoyed Bowen’s sense of humor.

“He never makes anyone feel bad when a mistake is made, but rather gives everyone a chance to laugh, refocus and do better on the next run-through.” Ferguson said.

With the retirement of Bowen, the Issaquah Philharmonic has begun the search for a new conductor. The group is looking for someone with experience who takes an educational approach to conducting. The next conductor must have the ability to judge the capabilities of orchestra members and program concerts that are challenging but attainable to the group.

Additionally, the conductor must be able to work with the members in an atmosphere of mutual respect and good humor. During concert performances, the conductor must be prepared to give brief program notes to the audience to increase their knowledge of the musical pieces and enhance their enjoyment of the concert.

For their service to the Issaquah Philharmonic during his time, Bowen asked to recognize Providence Point for furnishing a place to rehearse, the city of Issaquah Arts Commission for helping financially with grants and Faith United Methodist Church for offering the group a performance venue.

Quinn Eddy: 392-6434 or Comment at

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