Music on his mind

"Sean Owen is a young Oak Harbor guitarist with his sights set on the future.And, yes, he’d like to shake up the popular music charts — with a whole new appreciation for serious, beautiful, complex music.As a classical guitarist with classical dreams, he’s hoping a time will come when art music is once again a vital part of American life. In the meantime, he says, there is work to be done. “Creating new music is essential to keeping art music alive,” Owen said last week at his family’s Patton’s Hideaway home. “Art music hasn’t had recognition by the public since the 1920s and ’30s.” He’s planning to do his part, as a musicologist, writer, teacher, composer and performer. And he’ll be offering a sampling of the kind of music he’s talking about — selections from composers like Scarlatti and Villa-Lobos — at a public recital at the Oak Harbor Yacht Club on Thursday, Aug. 31. At the age of 24, Owen has three degrees in music — including a BA with honors from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and two master’s degrees that he received simultaneously this spring from the noted New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, one in classical guitar performance, one in musicology. While there, he studied with guitar virtuoso Eliot Fisk. This fall he’ll begin work on another two degrees — a third master’s, followed by a Ph.D. in musicology — the study of music history, analysis and criticism — at one of the world’s top schools, King’s College at the University of London. He expects to spend the next three or four years in England.Owen, who began playing as a child and was self-taught in the beginning, has been immersed in the study of music ever since he graduated from Oak Harbor High School in 1993. But earning two master’s degrees at the same time has been the biggest challenge so far.“It was a struggle,” said Owen, who is in Oak Harbor to visit his mother, Aleda Jeanne Owen, and catch his breath before moving on to London.That’s quite an accomplishment, say two of his teachers and mentors, Whidbey musicians Bruce Seaver and Rich Rorex. “It’s a huge, huge accomplishment,” said Seaver. “What he’s accomplished so far is very difficult to achieve and requires an unusual amount of discipline.”Even as a teen-ager Owen had a vision of music that was deeper than one would expect, Seaver said, that led him “not just to developing skills but actually leading to music as an art, and that’s rare.”Rorex said Owen has earned his success. “I know he has struggled and had to pay some dues. But he has worked hard at his music and has worked hard to overcome the things that get in your way when you want to play music.”For his Ph.D. Owen plans to write his dissertation on an obscure 20th century composer, Kaikhosru Sorabji, who wrote an immense body of music — 11,000 pages of manuscript — which has rarely been heard because the reclusive composer wouldn’t allow it to be publicly performed. “His music is more complex technically than any I’ve ever seen,” Owen said. He’ll be editing some of the music and writing about Sorabji’s life. Sorabji was also a prolific writer of musical criticism, another path that Owen would like to follow. “I’d like to try to live as a professional scholar and writer of books about music, or as a critic,” he said. While he is in London, Owen will also be able to study at the Royal Academy of Music, where the faculty includes noted guitarists John Williams and Julian Bream. But he doesn’t want to have to make a choice between the more calculated study of musicology and the impulsive art of performance.“I have both the impulsive and the calculated in me, and one is not more potent than the other,” he said. “In fact, they feed each other and I hope to use both sides.”Seaver plans to be in the audience for Owen’s concert next week and he expects to hear some exceptional guitar playing. “It’s nice to see someone take it to that level, and it’s nice to be a small part of it,” he said. “I can’t take credit for his success — he’s the one who went home and practiced and practiced — but it’s very nice to see.”------------------Owen in concertOak Harbor musician Sean Owen will present a classical guitar recital at the Oak Harbor Yacht Club on Thursday, Aug. 31, at 7 p.m. Admission is $5. Proceeds will go toward Owen’s music studies at King’s College, University of London. Because he is a citizen of the United States, Owen will not be eligible for financial assistance in Britain and the cost of studying at King’s College is high. A trust fund for tax-deductible donations has been set up in Owen’s name at Whidbey Island Bank. For information, call 675-4656. "

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