For Dr. Irene Bowling of Bowling Music Studios, the piano can act as a tool of growth for many of her students — not just in music, but in life.
Considered by many as Kitsap County’s premier music school, Bowling Music Studios is coming up on 40 years of having served the local music community. The school’s longevity is due in large part to Bowling herself, who has earned a rich resume of musical accolades throughout her illustrious career.
Bowling is a Kitsap County native and lives off Chico Way, where she has family origins dating back to the 1930s. The school currently operates out of two separate studios at her residence. Bowling is the oldest child in her musical family, citing her aunt as a big influence on her love of the piano. Her aunt was a piano and music composition professor, teaching for more than 60 years.
“Music wasn’t unusual,” Bowling said. “I started taking [piano] lessons myself when I was about 5, and like most kids, didn’t want to practice but enjoyed playing.”
The piano guru received her Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance from Arizona State University, Master of Music from the University of Maryland, and a doctorate from the University of Washington. As a recipient of numerous scholarships and awards, Bowling traveled twice on separate grants to England to research British contemporary music while also lecturing and performing. She also taught piano at Olympic College in Bremerton.
She has also been a concerto soloist with the Bremerton Symphony several times in the last 34 years, as well with as the Port Townsend and Bainbridge orchestras. Bowling was even featured on KING-FM, the classical radio station, cable TV and radio in eastern Washington. Currently, she is affiliated with the Kitsap Music Teachers Association and is a nationally certified member of the Music Teachers National Association.
Bowling modestly credited work and perseverance for the acclaimed recognition she’s gained over the years.
“I’m a bulldog,” she said about her relentless mentality. “I never let people fall through the cracks. I love what I do and I love talking to people. There are many really wonderful teachers out there.”
Fast-forwarding to the music school itself, Bowling Music Studios provides private lessons and a class piano group. More recently, Bowling has developed a private lesson program over the internet, citing the many Navy families who move away. She teaches students in Hawaii, San Diego, South Carolina and Japan.
Private lessons consist of one-on-one instruction offered once a week. The class piano program includes eight digital piano segments from beginning to advanced playing levels. Students may start in the class program and graduate into private lessons as space become available. All lessons are available to students of any age and playing level.
The music repertoire consists of standard classical music but can also include popular music, sacred and jazz. Composition and theory can also be integrated into private lessons. According to Bowling, the piano is the best instrument to start with because it teaches both the treble and bass clef, as well as hand-eye coordination and memorization.
“I see the need for it in our community,” she said. “The schools don’t offer piano instruction so it’s kind of up to the private teachers to do this.”
Many students also get the chance to put their skills to the test by participating in concerts and competitions around the county.
“What we try to do at these concerts is to use them as benefits for something in the community,” Bowling said. “The kids are really motivated to use their piano skills to help out the community.”
Perhaps the most rewarding part for Bowling has been seeing her students gain opportunities through their piano skills over the years.
“I’ve taken great pride in the many professional teachers now in our community that were former students of mine,” she said. “Now I’m teaching the kids of former students of mine. I’ve had some kids, through their piano skills, get anywhere from a couple thousand dollars knocked off from their college tuition, to full rides for four years, plus housing.”
Even if all the students don’t end up having a career in music, Bowling still sees value in the process and principles of dedicating yourself to learning a skill.
“The potential of people always astounds me. You just never know what they’re going to develop into. I have some kids that have some learning disabilities or emotional problems or physical handicaps. Music should be for everybody.”
“I believe so much in how music can bring happiness and contentment and excitement to a person’s life. I think if we focus on that alone, that’s enough. It doesn’t mean you have to become a concert pianist or a professional musician. Just to venture into that world is so enriching. I’ve seen it actually transform people’s lives.”
Although Bowling is open to all ages and skill levels, a positive attitude and a willingness to work is a must for her students.
“I like to talk to people first to kind of find out what their motivation is for studying,” she said. “I do expect a consistent product from my students. Parents sacrifice a lot to give things to their kids and I want the children to appreciate that and to know that lessons are not free and they need to work for that.”
Bowling, 62, has no immediate plans to retire, stating that the kids “keep me young.”
“I’ve had the privilege to be a part of so many people’s upbringing. They become like children to me. I’m hoping that the people I teach, [that] some of them may want to carry on this profession.”