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Music Teacher Founds School to Share Her Love of Music

Retired music teacher's academy brings free and low-cost lessons.

Published: Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 5:11 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 5:11 a.m.

WINTER HAVEN | Inside a small concrete block home in Florence Villa, a retired music teacher is making miracles with music.

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JESSIE OWENS, owner and founder of the J. Owens Academy of Fine Arts, practices for the academy's dinner and concert fundraiser, which is today at the Ritz Theatre.




Tickets to J. Owens Academy of Fine Arts cost $25 and are available at Lighthouse Christian Book Store, 359 Third St. N.W., and 3015 Cypress Gardens Road.
"The Light: A Joyful Extravaganza of Christmas" will begin at 4:30 p.m. today at the Ritz Theatre, 263 W. Central Ave., Winter Haven.

When Jessie Owens retired in June after a 45-year career teaching students throughout Polk County, she wasn't ready to stop sharing the gift of music. So when the last of a string of destructive tenants moved out of her mother's house, she decided to give the building new life as a music academy for those who couldn't afford private lessons.

The J. Owens Academy of Fine Arts opened in September to music students of all ages and backgrounds who wanted to improve their music reading and performance skills.

Designed to provide a community arts education program for students from a low socioeconomic background, the academy bases tuition on how much they can afford to pay.

To help provide these programs at little or no cost, the academy will present "The Light: A Joyful Extravaganza of Christmas" today at the Ritz Theatre, 263 W. Central Ave.

The semiformal event will include a social time and dinner in addition to the concert.


"There is an excitement in the air at the J. Owens Academy of Fine Arts as the choir members prepare for their first annual citywide Christmas concert," Owens said. "We will be presenting various genres of music for the general public's listening pleasure."

The evening will feature a variety of music — classical, pop, jazz, traditional Christmas spirituals and contemporary gospel songs — by local performers and guest artists.

Visiting performers will be Greg McKnight, formerly of the Grammy Award-winning pop-funk group Kool and the Gang; Iona Joseph; and the Super Choir of West Palm Beach.

Other performers will be Nikki Gadson; Sherwood Davis; the New Treble Singers of Florida under the direction of Virginia Davidson; the Winter Haven Mass Choir, directed by Larentiis Smith; and the Jewett Alumni Choir, led by Owens.


Money raised from the event will enable Owens and Ravel Green, an instructor at the school, to provide music training at a reduced cost or free.

The academy currently offers music lessons in choral and instrumental music stressing reading skills, theory and history. Students also gain skills through improvisation, presenting recitals and concerts.

Green is a musician, songwriter and ordained minister who has performed with such notables as Kool and the Gang, The Drifters and Roberta Flack. He will provide piano coaching, instruction in keyboard harmony and ear training.

Eventually Owens plans to add dance and drama to the mix.

"We're trying to provide something to the community to improve the cultural level," said Owens, who holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from Nova Southeastern University.

The program, she said, will help reach students who might fall between the gaps in the traditional education system, as well as those who wish to pursue nontraditional art forms not available in public school music classes.

The academy also will provide lessons for students who are unable to enroll in music classes because they are taking intensive reading and mathematics to improve their grades.

The academy provides schoolchildren one-on-one instruction in a relaxed atmosphere free from deadlines and curriculum requirements.

"Kids won't stress out," she said.

Green, a bass clarinet player with a doctorate in forensic psychology, said music offers children of all backgrounds a creative outlet and a productive way to spend their time.

"Music is a universal language everyone can understand," he said. "Being involved would take away the delinquencies that would be a part of our kids."

But the programs aren't just for children. Every Monday, 15 to 20 adults gather for an evening of singing.

And the academy offers an opportunity for young adults like Mariah Tyree, a 21-year-old violinist and paraprofessional educator, to continue studying and performing music after high school.

"Kids on Mariah's level don't have an outlet to play music. This age bracket here doesn't have a place to show," Owens said.

The academy is now providing that outlet.

Tyree said Owens presents instruction with a passion for music and love of teaching.

Tyree and Owens have known each other for years because they both attend Hurst Chapel AME Church. Owens not only taught Tyree to read music, but helped her conquer a fear of performing before an audience.

"She's been doing this a long time," Tyree said. "She's a great teacher and she's helpful."

The one-on-one instruction and additional performance instilled confidence in the young musician.

"When I first worked with her, I was nervous and didn't like to play with people," Tyree said. "She got me out playing in front of people."

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