What do concertos and calculus have in common? They represent the twin talents of Wilde Lake High School math teacher and classical pianist Bryan Rowe.
Dubbed a "math maestro," the Baltimore native sees a connection between the disciplines needed to succeed in music and math, and he considers it a metaphor for success.
"Kids need to choose a life that's not restricted to the masses, to strive for excellence, not perfection, in their individual and academic endeavors," says Rowe, 41, adding that youths should have passion in their pursuits.
Rowe's background reflects his dual talents. His twin brother, Bart, a U.S. Navy commander and an Annapolis graduate, says Bryan was introduced to music at age 5 in the basement of the family's Brooklyn Park home.
"My father was working at the house of a blind piano tuner and was offered an old player piano," Bart Rowe says. "He broke it down, brought it home and put it all back together. Shortly thereafter, Bryan began duplicating songs from the radio onto the piano. He had learned to play by ear - everyone was amazed."
He formed his first singing group in elementary school called the Bryan Rowe Singers, and his family put together a band about the same time. Named the Impossibles, they performed at a camp for disabled children - an experience that made a lasting impression on the young musician.
After attending Peabody Conservatory Preparatory School on an organ scholarship in high school and graduating from Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania with triple majors in organ performance, sacred music and business administration, he was admitted to the Juilliard School in New York. But he didn't stay.
"I wanted to do more than spend my days in practice rooms," Rowe says. "While I love giving concerts, I thought I had more to offer."
He capitalized on his proclivity for business and worked in Philadelphia at a brokerage firm. He also began taking math courses at Towson State University, where he was inspired by Professor Robert Hanson.
Receiving his teaching certification in secondary mathematics from Towson, he taught for four years at St. Paul's School for Boys, a private school in Brooklandville. He spent the summers of 1991 and 1992 in Hong Kong developing a program for gifted math students, under the auspices of the Johns Hopkins University, where he earned a master's degree in the School of Continuing Studies gifted education program.
Recognizing a need for positive role models, he switched to Columbia's Atholton High School in 1991. There, Aldema Ridge, a teacher in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program with 32 years' experience, noticed his instructional style.
"He lights up the classroom," Ridge says. "He has such positive energy. It's a joy to be in his presence."
Roger Plunkett, Atholton principal at the time and now assistant superintendent of schools, agrees. "Look up `excellent' in the dictionary and you'll see the name Bryan Rowe," says Plunkett, who gave Rowe the "math maestro" moniker.
Rowe's strong spiritual convictions weave through his music and in his relationships with students and peers. Wilde Lake High Principal John Quinn says Rowe has a rare gift "to relate to all levels of kids" in teaching gifted pre-calculus and math concepts. "I was able to observe a lesson, and he creatively engaged all the students," Quinn says. "He has this talent, and he is willing to share it."
Says Rowe, who has been teaching at Wilde Lake High since last year: "I am not a great mathematician. My plug is the discipline between academics and music."
Now at work on his fourth compact disc of original "intense" compositions, Rowe gave a nighttime performance in December at Wilde Lake and repeated the show six times during the day, playing each period so every student would have an opportunity to attend. "I could have played six times more," Rowe says.
Despite the pressures of teaching and the time invested in the creation of his music, he maintains a rigorous performance schedule. He plays the organ every Sunday at Central Presbyterian Church in Towson. Tom Brantigan, the church's director of traditional music, praises Rowe's talent.
"Having him at the [keyboard] is every choral conductor's dream," Brantigan says. "He plays music, not just notes."
In June, Rowe saw some of his dreams come true. He made his European debut in two venues. As an organist, he played a recital at St. Paul's Cathedral in London; as a composer, his choral work Beatitudes premiered in England's Canterbury, Salisbury, Ely and St. Paul's cathedrals.
Rowe's main focus is to continue encouraging his students to "be the best you can be." About the dual nature of his talents, he says: "To develop the minds of young people is sacred. But music is like breathing - it's a major element, like oxygen."