The only conductor the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic has ever known has taken a few personal and musical cues from a passionate violinist.

Early in his career as the ensemble’s first and only music director, David Bowden occasionally sat in the office of J. Irwin Miller. The now-late, heralded Cummins executive and arts supporter also loved to play his Stradivarius violin when he wasn’t helping direct the fortunes of much of Columbus.

And when Miller wasn’t making music, he sometimes would compose pieces of life wisdom to share with Bowden, then in the first few years of leading the city’s first fullly professional orchestra — and one that would gain national attention via National Public Radio broadcasts, and top, national concert programming awards in its first 11 years.

“Mr. Miller had a profound influence on me,” said Bowden, 62, reminiscing at Columbus’ First Christian Church, one of his favorite concert venues, known for its clear acoustics. “In this very space in 1988, Mr. Miller, sitting right over there at the end of a (Bowden-led chamber orchestra) concert, led a standing ovation.”

The following day, Miller asked the Indiana University doctoral music student and Philharmonic conductor straight to consider committing to Columbus for the next 10 years to escort a fledgling orchestra toward stability.

“So I took some time (to think),” Bowden said. “And then I made a commitment.”

For more on this story, see Friday’s Republic.


Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.