Local piano student earns honors, teaches other musicians

Dreams are most often achieved by those who exhibit a desire to work hard and the tenacity to persevere. These characteristics seem to be right in alignment with the recent achievements of Kingston’s Owen Espinosa.

Owen, 17, comes from a family with two older brothers who introduced him to music at an early age. When his brothers began classical piano lessons, Owen got a chance to listen to them play. After plenty of exposure to his brothers’ music, Owen and his parents, Lisa and Percy, thought it was time for him to dive in himself.

“When I was about six, I had a little toy piano and I started playing the melodies my brothers were playing,” Owen Espinosa said.

Espinosa began lessons in 2008 under the instruction of his older brothers’ teacher, Leilani Montage. Montage quickly realized that Espinosa had a special talent for the piano.

Later, after Montage moved away, the Espinosas sought out Irene Bowling, a well-known pianist in the region and the director of Bowling Music Studios in Bremerton.

“It was a pretty intense first meeting with Dr. Bowling,” Lisa Espinosa said of Owen’s first encounter with the highly-respected teacher. “This was when we figured out if this was something Owen really had potential in.”

Bowling decided to take Owen on and within a year, she said he had an amazing talent, according to Lisa.

“The teacher really matters,” Percy Espinosa said. “Obviously the student has to have the potential and be able to work for it.”

“She has been a great person in my life,” Owen said. “She’s mentored me through my journey.”

Under Bowling’s tutelage, Owen began competing in competitions and said he began to realize his potential when he started winning some of them. Owen has received numerous honors and achievements, most recently finishing first in the Kitsap Young Artist Competition in March, as well as the Conductor Recognition Award for the Bremerton Symphony.

“It feels really good, but there’s also a lot of hard work that goes into this,” Owen said. “For one measure, there is hours of work put into it. There’s a lot of work behind all these awards.”

As is often the case, in order to experience triumph, one must also experience tribulations along the way. Espinosa battled with the nerves that accompany live performance when he first began playing in front of crowds, but he was ultimately able to become more comfortable with performing in front of a live audience.

“There’s a lot of pressure, especially in the competitions,” Owen said. “I used to get incredibly nervous, being sick to my stomach and getting headaches. As I’ve performed, the bad symptoms have sort of faded away. I’ve grown to love the feeling of my heart beating; it feels great.”

Owen said Bowling has helped him with techniques to overcome the nerves, including slow practicing and being confident.

“It’s not life or death, it’s music,” He said. “It’s just five minutes of playing and then you’re done.”

Currently, Owen is teaching piano to nine students, ages 7 to 16 as a member of the Kitsap Music Teacher Association. Bowling, who has a doctorate in piano performance, provides supervision and direction to Owen in this role.

“I’ve grown to love [teaching],” Owen said. “I’d love to go to a university and get a PhD. and hopefully perform and teach as a career.”

Two years ago the Espinosa’s world shook when Percy was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, according to his wife Lisa.

“I think the music was strengthening to [Owen] — something positive to focus on,” Lisa said. “He not only persevered during this very difficult time, he was even able to earn many new awards and recognition. I remember a couple of people coming up to us after a performance and telling us how moved they were by his performance, knowing what Owen was facing with a dad combating cancer and going through cancer treatments at home. Having Owen playing his music in our home during that time was a very healing thing for my husband as he faced this difficult health challenge.”

As Owen approaches college in the coming years, his parents reflected on the fruition of his dreams playing out in front of their eyes.

“I’ve watched the majority of his events and competitions,” Percy said. “It’s such a cool thing to be able to do what he does. We’re just bragging; as an audience member I’m like ‘did I just see what I think I saw.’ I always tell the guys, you never hear of anyone regretting playing, you hear them regret quitting.”

“We’re proud that he’s pursuing his dreams,” Lisa said. “When they lose, it’s hard, and when they win, you’re proud. I highly respect the perseverance he’s had. In order to get at the level he is, you don’t get there by playing video games all day long.”

Owen also said he hoped he could serve as a role model for the younger students in leading by example.

“The people coming up are playing super difficult music,” he said. “I hope I’ve been an inspiration.”