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McGowan began studying flute at the age of nine with Gary Stotz in Pacific Grove, California. Learning both basic technique and the ability to improvise became the seed which grew into his multifaceted approach to music. Further flute teachers include Ray Fabrizio, Jacqueline Hofto (Interlochen Arts Academy), Jeff Khaner and Mary Kay Fink (Cleveland Institute of Music), Tim Day (San Francisco Conservatory of Music), Robert Dick and Anne La Berge.

McGowan also holds a degree in Composition from the Royal Conservatory in the Hague, Netherlands, where he studied with Martijn Padding. He has also followed classes with Louis Andriessen, Clarence Barlow, Helmut Lachenmann, Diderik Wagenaar, George Tsontakis and Syd Hodkinson.

He has studied jazz piano with Marshall Griffith and Mark Levine.

In Amsterdam he studied Carnatic music theory with Rafael Reina.

Further studies in non-western music include a month learning Wolof drumming and dance in Gambia, Africa, and several trips to India to study the Carnatic tradition. In Bangalore, he has studied carnatic flute with Sri M.K. Pranesh, composition with Vidwan Anoor Anathakrishna Sharma and konnakol with Vidwan B. K. Chandramouli.

In 2006 McGowan received an award from the Rudolf Escher Fonds to study in India for two months. His study was also supported by the Fonds voor de Podium Kunsten and the Schoolings Fonds.