“As a musician, it’s fun to perform, but it’s more fun to play with people. They become your family.”
In 1977, violinist Linda Owen picked up a copy of her local newspaper. Conductor Keith Clark had just returned after almost ten years abroad in Europe. He announced in the paper he formed a brand-new orchestra in Orange County, and Owen was immediately intrigued. Wasting no time at all, she got herself backstage at his next concert at Fullerton College. She walked right up to Clark and introduced herself with a firm handshake. She expressed her interest in his new orchestra and quickly summarized her musical experience as Concertmaster of Rio Hondo Symphony. Impressed, Clark invited Owen to join right then and there.
“It is definitely not the way that musicians get into the orchestra today!” Owen commented. “Keith liked everybody, but he obviously knew that I played and he was trying to get his orchestra going so he said, sure, come! Keith was a very interesting man and I enjoyed playing with him.”
Just like that, Owen became a founding member of Clark’s Pacific Chamber Orchestra, which would later come to be known as today’s Pacific Symphony. Now, 45 years later, Owen is still part of the Symphony family and continues to display her talents as an accomplished violinist. She is one of the two original musicians still playing with the orchestra today.
“Music is my life, my quartet, the Symphony, practicing and performing–and I fly fish.”
This quote by Owen really wraps up all she is about. She is a musician, educator, fly-fisher, orchid raiser, and safe haven to all blue birds alike.
Owen’s background in music started in fourth grade when she first picked up the violin. She fell in love with the instrument’s sound and was fortunate enough to have parents who invested in that passion. They hired a private instructor to expand upon her talents, and soon she was practicing three hours a day.
“I didn’t come from a musical family, but [my parents] knew music was important. Even though we didn’t have a lot of money, when my brother and I started playing instruments, they got us private lessons. That made a huge difference.”
After high school, Owen knew she wanted to go into teaching. Music was surprisingly not part of her college plans at all, though it was still a passion of hers. Fortunately, her advisor at Whittier College foresaw another path for her.
“I always knew I wanted to go into education, but the music part sort of fell into my lap. Everything I did in high school was music, so I guess my advisor in college figured I was going to go into music. That’s how I got into it! I planned on teaching English or social studies, but I’m really glad it was music!”
Owen received her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Education at Whittier College and then began her extensive career in music education. She taught elementary school music for 20 years and then transitioned to Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator for the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District. A career in music education was a wonderful time for her; she loved working with her students.
“When you’re teaching something the kids want to do, it is so much fun because they really enjoy coming to class. You just have so much fun developing them. I still see people; I run into students I had 30, 40 years ago. Actually, an old student of mine is writing music now and he just asked me to look at his string parts to see if they’re too hard or playable. He’s all grown up and this is his livelihood now.”
Owen balanced music education and performance for many years, but push did come to shove in March 2006 when the Symphony was set to tour in Germany. Schedules grew conflicted and she knew she could no longer do both. She was faced with a life-changing career decision and, after 37 years in education, she decided to retire.
“It was a great decision, and I have been happily ‘just a musician’ ever since.”
Owen, of course, is not “just a musician”, as her impressive musical accomplishments can attest to. In 1991, Owen started a chamber music series at the Bradford House in Placentia. Her quartet and colleagues from Pacific Symphony performed there throughout the years. Her program had decades of success and continued for 32 years!
“(Bradford House) is not a big house, so when we did concerts there, we just set up chairs and people sat elbow to elbow. People loved coming to the concerts because you could see the performers breathe. They’re up close to the music. We had fine groups that played there.”
Owen also keeps busy with her well-known Santiago String Quartet and with Pacific Symphony since its inception. Owen and some friends of hers decided that they wanted to form a string quartet to perform good music for the community. Playing in a quartet is an experience you must be a part of as a string player.
Many summers back, the string quartet was invited to Mammoth to coach and play concerts for a festival. She insisted that her husband, Bill, tag along. Most of her work for the festival took place in the evenings, so during the day Owen and her husband were able to spend time together. This was when Owen decided to learn fly-fishing with her husband and it soon became a new hobby for her. She frequents Mammoth, but has also fished in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Alaska.
“I can’t say I’m an expert at it, but I catch fish! That’s the bottom line! It’s just so wonderful to be out in nature on the river. It’s very special.”
Back home, Owen has a special connection with nature as well. She raises 75 magnificent orchids, and she also has a friendly community of blue birds that nest right in her yard.
“An orchid lasts for a long time. They bloom for months. My first orchids will start blooming in December and I’ll have orchids through July. There’s sort of a sea of orchids in my patio; it’s pretty spectacular.”
“One thing about blue birds is that they are so social. They look you in the eye and they almost talk to you. They’re not afraid of you. They will sit there and are so friendly. They like having you around. They like that I take really good care of them. We have a bluebird nesting box in our yard. They have two or three nests a year and I watch them raise their babies.”
For Owen, her bluebirds are family, and she takes her care for them very seriously. There were a few times when she was away from home for long periods of time. She did not want her bluebirds to feel abandoned, so she hired someone specifically to feed them while she was away. Because of her committed care of them, they keep coming back every year.
Despite being a bustling, in-demand musician, Owen finds that staying busy with music is actually what grounds her in life.
“Music is my world and keeps me sane. (It) helps us all escape from the crazy world, to a place of passion and peace.”
Of course, Pacific Symphony is a big part of that equation. With her longtime commitment to the organization, the Symphony grew to become part of her family and support system. She has played with fellow musicians for years and they have since become important parts of her life.
She is very grateful to have them. Owen’s husband, Bill, was her biggest supporter. He passed away in March of 2020 and her fellow musicians were a comfort to have around during a hard time.
“As a musician it’s fun to perform, but what is really important is the people you play with. They become your family. Those were the people that were by my side and kept me going. Just last year, there was one concert where three of us sat side by side and we had all lost our husbands in the last year, or so. We’re such a close family and it’s really great to have those people. People would call and just check up on you to see how you were doing.”
The Symphony family continues to expand as the years go on. Owen has been able to watch it grow and evolve throughout the years.
“We have so many wonderful young players that have become part of the orchestra. It has made the Symphony better and better. These young players are such incredible musicians.”
These young musicians will only continue to grow and do wonders for the organization in the years to come. Looking back, She is proud to be a part of Pacific Symphony and all it has been able to accomplish. She knows that her friends and family at the Symphony will continue to exceed expectations and provide only the best musical performances for their community.
Samantha Horrocks is a guest blogger currently enrolled as a senior at California State University, Fullerton studying Communications with a concentration in Entertainment and Tourism.