Senior Ben Cowan arranges music for the school band

Kelsey Demel, staff writer

As the players hurriedly discuss their game plan during timeout, the pep band plays tunes to get the crowd going. Before last year, the band’s music was mostly from before the turn of the millennium. Now, it is playing tunes that can be heard over the radio.

Senior Ben Cowan was the change that brought the band its new material. Cowan has been a member of the band since freshman year, playing both trumpet and mellophone. He is also a member of the Kansas City Youth Jazz Band. Starting his sophomore year, he discovered a passion for arranging music.

Cowan first learned about arranging from Southwest alumnus Max Putnam. Cowan saw Putnam arranging the song “Animals” by Martin Garrix for drumline and this caught Cowan’s interest. Putnam then told Cowan about an online program another band senior had used, which Cowan used to explore arranging music.

After reaching his limitations with online software, Cowan consulted with band director Edward Protzman on his next step. Protzman recommended the software Finale, and Cowan made the switch halfway through his sophomore year.

Finale allows users to arrange and write music with a choice of 450 instruments. The program also allows flexibility for the composer when arranging. Notes can be placed manually, or the software will adjust a baseline melody to fit each instrument.

Protzman has overseen Cowan’s progress for the past two years by giving him tips on how to improve his writing style. Protzman also reviews Cowan’s pieces individually.

“I guess it was the end of two years ago [when he started arranging], but last year is when he really came into his own with it and started to arrange the pep tunes that we could use,” Protzman said. “So last basketball season, we used three or four of his pep band arrangements.”

When the band started to play Cowan’s arrangements, it gave him a chance to hear his music live. So far, Cowan has arranged nine songs for the pep band ranging from “Safe and Sound” by Capital Cities, to one of his new works that will be premiering this year, “Life is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts.

“When they first started playing my music during pep band last year, I thought it was really cool and I was really amped up to play it too,” Cowan said. “I thought it was empowering. It was cool to hear it on an actual instrument instead of through a program.

Students found that the arrangement of Cowan’s popular music added more spirit to the games. He believes that when students have the opportunity to listen to current music they are more likely to sing and dance along.

“I think it’s more fun — like we had ‘Some Nights,’ and that seems to be more fun than having the older music,” senior Jared Daniel said. “The old music is still fun — like ‘Sweet Caroline’ is good every time, but it gets old eventually.”

However, the work that goes into arranging a piece can take hours. Cowan first looks at other arrangements of the song that are already published to see how they have tackled tough rhythms. He takes these ideas and emulates them to improve his pieces. For songs that do not have good arrangements already published, Cowan will write his own melodic and bass line. ‘Life is a Highway’ took seven hours to arrange.

Besides arranging music, Cowan also uses Finale to compose his own pieces. Recently, he’s been writing his own drum corps, professional marching band, music. For composition, Cowan has to come up with his own original content for a range of musical instruments.

“It [composing] allows me to express my ideas through a different voice than most people do,” Cowan said. “A lot of people like to write down stories, or something like that, or draw a picture, but I find it best to write music because sound is something that you can interpret both in your head and through what you see.

Although the work that goes into creating a piece can be rewarding for the writer, Cowan wants it to be rewarding for the musicians. He wants the music to be easy to learn and fun to play.

Cowan’s work with arranging and composing music won’t stop in high school. He plans on attending University of Southern Missouri next fall to work toward a double major in business and music, with intentions to work in music publishing. Additionally, in November, Cowan is traveling to Rosemont to audition for the Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps on trumpet.

“If you have the slightest interest of entering a field of music in college, I’d say having at least a minimalist amount of music writing is beneficial to you,” Cowan said. “You don’t have to have a […] program like I do; you don’t have to have a lot of free time hours. They have a lot of programs on the internet that are free that you can download to your computer, and you can start right away. So it’s not this elitist group that writes for the people, it’s inclusive for everyone, anyone can do it.”

“When they first started playing my music during pep band last year, I thought it was really cool, and I was really amped up to play it too,” Cowan said. “I thought it was empowering. It was cool to hear it on an actual instrument instead of through a program.”

Band students came to recognize that Cowan’s arrangements of popular music added more spirit to the games. Cowan found that when students have the opportunity to listen to current music, they are more likely to sing and dance along.

“I think it’s more fun — like we had ‘Some Nights,’ and that seems to be more fun than having the older music,” senior Jared Daniel said. “The old music is still fun — like ‘Sweet Caroline’ is good every time, but it gets old eventually.”

However, the work that goes into arranging a piece can take hours. Cowan first looks at other arrangements of the song that are already published to see how they have tackled tough rhythms. He takes these ideas and emulates them to improve his pieces. For songs that do not have good arrangements already published, Cowan will write his own melodic and bass line. “Life is a Highway” took seven hours to arrange.

Besides arranging music, Cowan uses Finale to compose his own pieces. Recently, he’s been writing his own drum corps music, which is a form of professional marching band. For composition, Cowan has to come up with his own original content for a range of musical instruments.

“[Composing] allows me to express my ideas through a different voice than most people do,” Cowan said. “A lot of people like to write down stories, or something like that, or draw a picture, but I find it best to write music because sound is something that you can interpret both in your head and through what you see.”

Although the work that goes into creating a piece can be rewarding for the writer, Cowan wants it to be rewarding for the musicians. He wants the music to be learn able and fun to play.

Cowan’s work with arranging and composing music won’t stop in high school. He plans on attending the University of Southern Missouri next fall to work toward a double major in business and music, with intentions to work in music publishing. Additionally, in November, Cowan is traveling to Rosemont, Virginia, to audition for the Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps on trumpet.

“If you have the slightest interest of entering a field of music in college, I’d say having at least a minimalist amount of music writing is beneficial to you,” Cowan said. “You don’t have to have a … program like I do; you don’t have to have a lot of free time hours. They have a lot of programs on the internet that are free that you can download to your computer, and you can start right away. So it’s not this elitist group that writes for the people, it’s inclusive for everyone, anyone can do it.”