ADVANCING the mission | Virgil Chan & Bob Gowen
Yes is a powerful word.
Yes can take you places you have never been. It can land you in a dance competition. It can help aspiring artists reach their goals. And yes can help you meet new people, make great friends and get the most out of life. For proof, look no further than Indianapolis residents and American Pianists Association supporters Virgil Chan and Bob Gowen.
We recently visited Bob and Virgil at their downtown Indianapolis condo. In a beautifully decorated home with great views of the city under fading sunlight, we discussed how their inclination to saying yes led to their introduction to the American Pianists Association and so much more.
We will pick up the story in August 2004. Virgil had completed his medical residency in Chicago and said yes to an opportunity to relocate to Indianapolis to practice with OrthoIndy. After acclimating to the city, the couple saw it working out as their new home. Bob then wrapped up his business in Chicago and joined Virgil in Indianapolis full-time.
Not long after, Bob’s new best friend in the city, Izabela, called to ask what he was doing. As Bob recounts:
I said, “I have some time, why?”
And she said, “You have to come to this with me!’
I said, “What is it?”
She said, “Just put on a jacket and come!”
And Bob said yes:
As Bob mentioned he has no background in music:
I can’t even hum! I think that’s one of the nice things about it. My background has nothing to do with the arts. Now it’s pretty much the foundation of my life in Indianapolis. I’m involved on several arts boards and meet a lot of people through that. That’s how I became more involved with the APA. Izabela asked me to be co-chair of a fundraiser for the APA called Beethoven and Brew, and it was really enjoyable. This city has opened up their arms and welcomed us and we embraced it totally.
Virgil, meanwhile, has a much deeper music background:
Virgil has carried this appreciation for arts from the Philippines to Indianapolis. He also appreciates the arts community in the city:
One thing that is remarkable about Indianapolis is that the arts community is a tight community. If you get involved with one, it is hard not to be involved with other organizations. The friendships transcend organizations, and the organizations tend to work collaboratively. It is really a great feeling.
Virgil’s background in the arts and the closeness of the arts community led to another invitation. Dance Kaleidoscope, a professional contemporary dance company in town, held a Dancing with the Stars-themed fundraiser last fall and asked Virgil to participate. Of course he said yes: “I was so happy to participate. We probably rehearsed for five weeks.”
Bob was proud: “You could see the joy in his face. I think that’s the thing about any of the arts things we do.”
This sort of intimacy with art-making is a strength of the American Pianists Association. The Awards take place in a variety of venues, some of which are especially welcoming for small audiences. Then there are further opportunities to meet the aspiring musicians, and if desired, to actively shape APA programs that advance the careers of young pianists.
As Virgil explains:
One thing we love about Indianapolis you can really get close to the action. In Chicago, we had lots of things we could go see. Here, we have lots of things we can truly be a part of. We show interest in arts organizations and they involve us in any way they can. You are really part of the community that puts up the show.
Opportunities for involvement is a big part of their love for the APA. Getting so close to the organization led to another moment for yes: hosting judges for the American Pianists Awards. Bob shares the story of that experience:
While Bob kindly calls the APA an ambassador for the city, he and Virgil have become ambassadors for the organization. Bob explains, “We often bring guests and they always come back. We buy extra tickets and invite people and they come.”
With key fundraising events and the American Pianists Awards Premiere Series concerts on the horizon, Virgil plans to continue that practice: “We have a few neighbors in our building I don’t think have been introduced, so we would like to take them.”
Those taking Bob and Virgil up on their invitations have been treated to some magical moments over the years. Two of Bob’s favorites highlight the uniqueness of APA events. The first required saying yes to a location they had never before visited, Indy’s Jazz Kitchen:
A second “magical moment” showcases the American Pianists Awards competitive format which replicates nearly every kind of performance situation a professional pianist will encounter.
Clearly, the couple are smitten with the APA; as Bob says, “We get a lot of joy. It’s a great mission—discovering and helping support young American world class pianists—and we have seen the fruits of that; these are remarkable people, so talented you want to see them out in the world.”
And the heart of the organization, President and Artistic Director Joel Harrison, is paramount to Bob’s appreciation of APA’s efforts:
Virgil and Bob continue to demonstrate pride in the organization, having already subscribed to the 2017 American Pianists Awards Premiere Series. And, in addition to attending the events, Bob is taking part in the planning as co-chair of the Awards—yet another demonstration of his and Virgil’s willingness to try new things and be open to yes. This year, the American Pianists Association encourages everyone to emulate Bob and Virgil and say yes to the arts!
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