Bowman, Jack

Interviewer: Jean McMillen
Place of Interview: His office at the Congregational Church
Date of Interview:
File No: 16 Cycle: 3
Summary: Family background, his musical career path, musical plans for the future at church.

Interview Audio

Interview Transcript

Jack Bowman Interview:

This is file #16, cycle 3. This is Jean McMillen. Today’s date is Dec. 14, 2017. I am interviewing Dr. Jack Bowman who is the Minister of Music at the Salisbury Congregational Church. He is going to talk about his family background, particularly the horse naming story, his career path and how he came to the Salisbury Congregational Church and anything else he wants to throw in for interest. First we will start with the genealogical information.

JM:What is your name?

JB:My parents were both from families of farmers and teachers. My name is jack bowman.

JM:You are a Jack, not a John.

JB:That is correct. They figured if they gave me a nickname, I would not have to worry about anything getting messed up.

JM:Your birthdate?

JB:Feb. 27, 1945

JM:Your birth place?

JB:IU was born in Youngstown, Ohio. My parents lived outside of Youngstown in a small coal mining town where there were not hospitals. My parents drove into Youngstown to the hospital there on the south side of town. I was born there.

JM:Your parents’ names?

JB:Dale and Elizabeth Clark Bowman. My mother was never known as Elizabeth but as Betty.

JM:Before I ask you about your siblings, I want the horse naming story.

JB:I have to give a little sibling story before the horses because I have a sister Jane Susan and my brother’s name is Jim. After my father died, I inherited a picture of my father with his three horses from the farm. I knew that he had grown up on a farm and I knew he had horses, but I really had not seen this picture. I had never held it or looked at the back of it. On the back of it, it says,” Dale with his three horses, Betty, Jane and Susan.” Of course my mother’s name was Elizabeth, but he never called her Elizabeth. She was had to be Betty. My sister was named Jane Susan. The women in my life were all named by my father after his horses which I never knew until I saw that picture.

JM:It is a good thing he did not have 5 horses named Jim and Jack.

JB:The funny thing is at some point in his life, he decided to buy the tombstone for their grace. He put Dale and Betty. My mother just came unglued. She said, “No, you are going to redo that tombstone. I am not going to have a tomb stone that says Betty! My name is Elizabeth.” Mother stood up to him.


JM:Tell me about your early musical training. I think it started with your wanting to play the trumpet.

JB:I did. In fourth grade the band director came around the school asked, “Who wants to be in the band?” I said, “I do. I want to plat the trumpet.” He said, “Well you don’t really have the dental structure for playing a trumpet. You should play something else.” I went home. My parents with modest means said, “Uncle Ralph has a metal clarinet in the attic that you can use.” So I started somewhat reluctantly on Uncle Ralph’s metal clarinet which I still have today. The band director put all of the old metal clarinet players in the back row so that they wouldn’t be seen. The kids with the new flashy black plastic clarinets all got the front seats. I got a newspaper route and saved my money. I bought a new clarinet and went from last chair to first chair. I decided that the view is much better from the lead puppy.

JM: I think that is the way you maintained your musical career for the rest of your life. You like to be in the front seat.

JB:I guess that is true. Tell me about your musical training, college and so forth. Where did you go to college?

JB:I went to Ohio Wesleyan and I studies church music, organ and clarinet. I played in the band and the orchestra, sang in the choir so I got a really good education with a lot of performance opportunities. It was a small school so everybody gets to do a lot of things. That is good. For my Master’s I went to University of Michigan. I did a Master’s in woodwind performance which is unique. I had to play clarinet, flute, oboe, sax and bassoon, all 5 of them.

JM:Is the technique different for each.

JB:Yes, different fingering system some use reeds and some don’t. I studied with good teachers. Then I got my first teaching job at Alma College and while I was doing that I finished my Doctorate in Music Performance. I had woodwind, clarinet parts to it as well as organ. My dissertation was on the Bache Organ fugues which was a long way from starting on the clarinet. Most of my career has been in higher education. I have always taught at a university. After about 10 years from then on I was an administrator. I was in Oklahoma, Illinois, and most recently the University of Minnesota. I was Dean of the School of Fine Arts which presented me with wonderful challenges with arts and music, theater and dance, their outreach program and a historic mansion which was a learning experience.

JM:Tell me about that one.

JB:Early 1900’s Chester Congdon was a lawyer and built an estate in Duluth, Minnesota, right on Lake Superior that he called “Glensheen”, named after the glen, the woods, and the sheen on the water. It was a 38 room Jacobean style historic mansion with all the original furniture, draperies, carpeting, oriental carpets, and gold plated ceilings. It was absolutely magnificent. He was the richest man in


Minnesota at that point. He built a house to show that. No one member of the family could take care of that house so they gave the house to the University of Minnesota to be saved and maintained as a historic estate. Part of my joy as the Dean of fine Arts was to be involved with the mansion. We did a lot of historic restoration, and preservation. It was open to the public: we had 100,00o visitors coming through there every year. We had big gardens and we turned those gardens into working gardens to produce food which we gave to the food shelters.

JM:Did you use the house for performances at all?

JB:Yes, we did. They nearly killed me. We did operas in the house. For instance we did the “Marriage of Figaro”. We did the first act in the living room with the orchestra on porch beside it. We did the second act in the basement. We did the third act out in the carriage house, and we did the fourth act on the back patio. It was a magnificent evening. We did several performances. They were always sold out.

JM;Just to see the house!

JB:It was a beautiful setting.

JM:The logistics were daunting.

JB:It was a challenge because you have the preservationists who felt you dare not move this piece of furniture e versus the other people come on, this is a house the Congdons wanted it used. Trying to balance those two was somewhat of a challenge.

JM;I imagine you rose to the challenge admirably.

JB:Well we did several opera there. At the Summer Festival we had performances on the back patio with people sitting out in the garden. It was great fun.

JM:The ambiance would be fabulous.

JB:With the lake and the moon as background. Let’s move on from “Glensheen”.

JM:Alright how about talking about how you wound up in Turkey.

JB;I was at the University of Minnesota for 14 years. The President of the University had changed. The President had retired and the new President elected to have all new deans. There were 30 of us all of a sudden looking for work. I had a year or two before had been in Istanbul on a number of projects that we were doing. I was in this one school, the rector or as we would call it, the President pulled me aside and said, “I want to hire you to come and work for me to start a music conservatory.” “That sounds like a whole lot of fun. Let me get back to you.” I started sending regular proposals and we talked about how to do this. When things changed at the University of Minnesota, I called this guy and said, “Do you still want me?” “I’ll send you a contract today.” I went to Istanbul for three years. I was


hired to start a western style music conservatory. The only thing that we didn’t do was start a western style music conservatory. The Turkish have great ambitions and great ideas, and energy, but they have trouble following through on what they want it do.

JM:I have heard that.

JB:I took that as an opportunity to just enjoy myself. I taught four days a week and then Thursday night after work or Friday morning, I would fly somewhere and spend the weekend. Everything is close. I went to Kiev several times, Rome, Paris, and all over Turkey. I went to Berlin, and just enjoyed my three years there.

JM:Are you a linguist, as well?

JB:I speak French, a little German, and some Turkish so I got along fine. I don’t speak any Italian, but my Italian friends all speak French so I am good there. For the most part everybody there speaks English. It is nice if you have some language. They have a much higher respect for you. People say that Paris people are snobbish: no they are not. They are like us; they would like you to know something about their language. If you speak a little French and stumble along and they become your friends. They are wonderful people.

JM:How did you pick Salisbury from Istanbul?

JB:I knew it was time to leave because we weren’t doing what I was told we were going to do. Also it was becoming less safe over there with the terrorist situation. The big war in Syria had begun and is having terrible effects on Turkey. I started looking for a way to come back. I knew that it would be relatively impossible to go back into higher education; you do not start in higher education at my age, but I have had church music jobs through the years. I thought this would be a great opportunity to come back and spend my time developing a music program. I applied for church music jobs all over the country. I interviewed three or four places. The best deal was Salisbury, Ct.

JM:Oh good!

JB:I interviewed in a big church in New York and some other places. I interviewed for a Hartford job. Salisbury is a wonderful place; great people there is a mix here of those that want to keep Salisbury small and focused small and there are those that want it to grow and be dynamic and have influences from outside and bring the world here. My challenge is to balance the two worlds and that is what I am trying to do here.

JM:So far you are doing a wonderful job. What year did you actually come?

JB:2015 March 1, 2015 so I am 2 ½ months shy of my third anniversary.

JM:Sis you use al Sly as a mentor at all? (See tape #118A Al Sly)


JB:Oh of course. Al became a very good friend when I got here. One of the first people I went to lunch with. Then he brought together people he thought I should know. We had lunch with them. I would go to his house we would have a sandwich and talk. We would go to a restaurant and talk. He never interfered in what I was doing. He was always there to help and had good suggestions if I asked for them.

JM:He was so pleased that you came. What are some of the programs that you have added or changed in the musical line?

JB:I tried to develop the choir to include people who love to sing, but can’t always make a Wednesday night rehearsal or a Sunday morning. Church choirs historically came Wednesday night to rehearse and you came Sunday morning. If you couldn’t make Wed. night, you could not sing Sunday morning. This is not the world we are living in now. If your grandchild has a school performance on Wednesday night, you go see your grandchild. In my book that does not preclude you from singing on Sunday morning. I rehearse the music in advance so we prepare this anthem for this week, and the next week and next week. When you come to rehearsal, you have sung the anthems through for the next four weeks or more. If you miss a certain rehearsal, you still have a pretty good idea of what you are doing. I have tried to be more flexible and open in terms of receiving people who want to sing and have a life outside of church.

We have started a sinfonietta, the Salisbury Sinfonietta, which is a professional chamber orchestra. That has tremendous opportunities to enhance the church group. We do our oratorios with orchestra as they were written rather than with an organ accompaniment. There is a whole lot of difference between doing the Messiah with strings versus doing it with organ. We have done major works since I have been here. We have done the Easter section of the Messiah: we have done Saint Seans Christmas Oratorio, the Rutter Christmas Oratorio, and the Dave Brubeck La fiesta de la Posada.

JM: Which was excellent

JB:Thank you. In the spring we did the Messiah one year and the next year we did something else! I have tried to perform repertoire as close to the original as I can. That includes orchestra.

JM:How many in the sinfonietta?

JB:We hire the players for the concert so there could be a concert with three players or there could be another concert with 40 players. When we did the concert in Hartford, I think we used close to 40, but then here we have never seated about 30 because that is really the capacity that we have space for.

JM:Does the Al Sly Music Fund help fund any of this?

JB:Yeah, well yes and no. The sinfonietta is funded separately. It has its own fund raising and its own bank account, and its own 501(c) 3. Gifts that are made to the sinfonietta are tax deductible. If the church is doing a cantata or oratorio, the church hires the sinfonietta and pays for them out of church


funds, such as the Al Sly Fund. If the sinfonietta does a concert that it is sponsoring, it has to raise its own money.

JM:I see. What else does the Al sly Music Fund cover?

JB:There are other concerts than just orchestra. We had this year an organ recital with a clarinetist from Italy and the organist was from Iowa. We had the Reformation Unity celebration in Hartford where we had 30 churches from around the state and their choirs singing. We had an Asian Immigrant Story with artists from California, telling an Asian Immigration story. We just had the Brubeck La Fiesta which had 90 participants including our choir, children from Salisbury church, children from the Norfolk church and Norfolk school, the Norfolk choir, Chorus Angelicus Junior choir, the sinfonietta which required 13 musicians as a Mariachi band. The soloists were graduates of Western Connecticut and they all had Master’s Degrees from beyond that. Jennifer Tyo was a local soprano who sang the role of Mary. In the spring the Al Sly fund is helping bring back Duneya which is a Turkish ensemble from Boston. We‘ll again have a dialogue about Muslim neighbors. We still do the Open Recital for area music students (See tape #127A Jo Loi). The Al Sly fund pays for that.

Our big program this spring is the Haydn” Creation” and we are doing the entire “Creation” with orchestra. Joining us is the Norfolk choir as well as the Choeur d’Oratorio de Limours, a Paris, France, semi-professional choir. There are 60 members of the choir. This came about because I was talking to the director of the Paris sinfonietta, being the Salisbury sinfonietta, we were talking and I said, “What are you doing this spring?” Dominique said, “We are doing the Haydn “Creation”. “So are we! Why don’t you bring your people to sing with us?” “Well, I’ll ask them.” He went to the choir and said< “ ow many of you would like to pay your own way and go to Salisbury, Ct. and sing the “Creation” over there?” Initially there were 20 that said they would do that and now it is up to 50. So we have 50 really fine singers coming from Paris, France to sing in the Haydn ”Creation”.

JM: You are doing it at the congregational church?

JB:Right here.

JM:How are you going to fit them all in?

JB:Put them in the balcony.

JM:That’s no fun; then you can’t see them.

JB:If you sit in the right place, you can!

JM:As the reverse, you’ll be going to Paris?

JB:Anybody who is singing here is welcome to go to Paris to sing.

JM:I think you told me you were dividing it up as far as language was concerned?


JB:Yes, it turns out that we had all of these details pretty much worked out and then the director said to me, “By the way, we sing this in German.” I said, “By the way, we sing this in English.” We decided that our solution would be that we will sing (there are 8 choruses) 1,3,5,7, in English and 2,4,6,8 in German. So our people get experience in learning the German and they get to learn their English.

JM:That is not too onerous.

JB:No it is not hard to learn 4 choruses. I think that will be an incredible opportunity. Then we are going to take the performance down to New York to a church in New York City. Those that want to go there can go sing.

JM:You have big plans.

JB:We can do great things here in Salisbury, Ct.

JM:You have done great things already.

JB:We’ll try to keep that up.

JM:Yes. Would you like to add anything else to this before we close/

JB:No, I think your project is really so important. Thank you for doing that. I appreciate your time and interest in what I am doing.

JM:I am very happy to be able to interview you and thank you so much.

JB:You are welcome. Thank you.