Brian Owens Speaks on Money

By Najee Person | Photos from Sara Levin Photography via

Have you ever wanted to see a change in your community but didn’t know where to start? You may ask yourself, ‘How will I pay for this to begin?’ Brian Owens of The St. Louis Symphony, did not allow those factors to scare him. Instead, he turned to his resources to establish a life changing organization known as Life Compositions. Life Compositions is free for students and has proven to help teens excel.

What is your role at the St. Louis Symphony?

Brian Owens:  Within The St. Louis Symphony, I am the IN UNISON Artist in Residence and Program Manager. IN UNISON began 25 years ago, as an outreach to the African American community.  I manage the program side of it which includes finding students to give scholarships to and program development for initiatives aimed for young people.

Tell us about your relationship with Sterling Bank.

Brian: I have a relationship a really good partnership with Sterling Bank.  I partnered with Sterling Bank to do all the [concerts] that I’ve offered, like The Heal Ferguson and The Soul of Ferguson.  Sterling Bank also helped with community events for nonprofits to raise money.

How did Life Compositions start?

Brian:  The idea came out from the relationship with the St. Louis Symphony, Sterling Bank and with Maryville University.  My relationship with Sterling Bank connected me with The Little Bit Foundation, which connected me with Confluence Academy - Old North. When I went there [to Confluence Academy - Old North] and started working with the choir students, I was like ‘Dude, I have to something here.’  I asked the teacher, "How many of the students have experienced urban trauma?" She said "All of them."  We soon partnered with Maryville University getting 6 graduate students of [within Music Therapy] to come in and do therapeutic songwriting with 6 kids from Confluence Academy- Old North.

What did it cost to fund the program?

Brian: There are so many partnerships that play into it. We were blessed in the pilot stage to do a whole lot. My time is taken care of by The St. Louis Symphony. That’s a position that’s already taken care of [financially]. I had guest artists like Lydia Caesar and JR Peebles, who came in and offered mentorship. These artists are donating their time because it’s a cool thing to do while giving back. Sterling Bank, Maryville University and more donated time and helping with funding. Maryville University paid a stipend to their students to lead their [music therapy] side. Destin 2B1 Records is a company I’ve partnered with and they helped with funding for studio time as well. Sterling Bank also offered funding for studio time. Honestly, I believe that if someone wants to do this, they can do it. Don’t let [lack of] money be a determining factor.

How is music considered therapy for you?

Brian: Music is a universal language. Music can speak to the deepest part of us that no one else can see. Music is therapeutic for me because it speaks to the part of me that I can hide from everybody else. Music bypasses what society defines people as. Music bypasses what country you’re from, your socioeconomic status, the color of your skin, and what high school you’re from (if you’re from St. Louis).

Are the students working in a studio?

Brian: Every kid recorded a song and produced in Shock City Studio! They donated some time and discounted services for us. Luke Arens mixed and mastered for free. (Average price of professional studio time is $65/hr plus $65/hr for mixing and mastering which is a longer process.) We recorded seven songs in three days. To mix it was an average of two hours per song. So you’re looking at fourteen hours times the cost of mixing and mastering.

How have the students personally progressed since starting the program?

Brian: Prior to participating in [Life Compositions], one of the students at Confluence Academy Old North was on his way to being expelled, literally. He was in the process of having to go before the board [regarding his academic career]. He joined [Life Compositions] and graduated. One of the [factors] of [students within] the program is behavior. So if you want to be a part of this program, you’ve got to quit that [old habit]. Arguably, he’s probably one of the most talented kids who have participated since the program has started, in a raw sense. His voice on the mic is crazy. That’s the adventure of finding diamonds in the rough. ▪