BGSU alumnus Lt. Col. Ryan Nowlin
BGSU alumnus Lt. Col. Ryan Nowlin '00, '04 received an honorary doctorate during Spring Commencement. (BGSU photo/Haven Conn '22)

Lt. Col. Ryan Nowlin ’00, ‘04 receives honorary doctorate from BGSU, heralding the transformative power of music education

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The honorary degree conferred at Spring Commencement celebrates Nowlin’s journey and legacy as a music educator and director of the U.S. Marine Band

As Bowling Green State University prepares to celebrate its graduating class of 2024, a distinguished figure stands at the heart of this year’s Spring Commencement ceremony.

Lt. Col. Ryan J. Nowlin ’00, ‘04, acclaimed director of the U.S. Marine Band, will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Music Education degree. Nowlin will be hooded by BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers and Dr. Bruce Moss, director of band activities.

“Lt. Col. Ryan Nowlin’s commitment to country, along with his musical contributions and leadership, is such an example of how BGSU alumni make a difference,” BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers said. “As director of 'The President’s Own' United States Marine Band, he has taken another step in his storied career. We are proud to award him an honorary doctorate of music education.”

This prestigious recognition pays tribute to Nowlin’s remarkable career as a music educator, arranger, author and composer. His contributions resonate globally, shaping the future of music education and leaving an indelible mark on the University's legacy, as his compositions have written the musical soundtrack for BGSU itself.

 Lt. Col. Ryan Nowlin
Lt. Col. Ryan Nowlin received his Bachelor of Arts in Music Education in 2000 and his Master of Music in Music Education and Conducting in 2004 from BGSU. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Music education is more than just notes on a staff; it’s a symphony that shapes lives, fosters creativity and builds bridges across generations, and Nowlin embodies this transformative force. His journey from classrooms at BGSU to the grand stage of the U.S. Marine Band underscores the enduring impact of music education.

The BGSU legacy

Nowlin’s path at BGSU was marked by mentorship, dedication and a deep love for music. Under the baton of conductor Moss, Nowlin’s rehearsals transcended routine practice sessions. They became masterclasses in leadership, interpretation and passion. Nowlin also studied under Dr. Emily Freeman Brown, BGSU director of Orchestral Activities.

Moss recognized Nowlin’s potential, planting seeds that would bloom in the years to come. Simultaneously, Herbert Spencer Jr., another BGSU music luminary, nurtured Nowlin’s love for the French horn. Spencer’s mentorship instilled in Nowlin a reverence for music’s timeless language.

Nowlin was an instructor in conducting and band scoring as a graduate student at BGSU and also served as staff arranger for the Falcon Marching Band. His musical influence is still heard at BGSU, with the frequent playing of Nowlin’s “Sounds of the Centennial” during University events and "Go BG Warriors” during marching band pregame shows. “Sounds of the Centennial” was named the winner of the Centennial Fanfare Competition in 2010.

“My time at Bowling Green State University allowed me to follow my interests and curiosities in music through performing in a wide variety of ensembles from band and orchestra to horn choir, men’s chorus, and even Indonesian Gamelan,” Nowlin said. “It allowed me to take courses inside and outside of music that fostered my desire to learn and grow in a way that has yet to cease.

“It allowed me to explore my interests in education, conducting and even arranging — something I went on to do for the Falcon Marching Band for well over a decade.”

Nowlin’s academic journey at BGSU was equally significant. In 2000, he earned his bachelor’s degree in music education, and later returned for a master’s degree, further refining his craft.

The Marine Band: A baton of influence

Nowlin’s appointment as the director of the U.S. Marine Band represents a crescendo in his musical journey. His baton bridges eras, linking the compositions of John Philip Sousa to contemporary works. The Marine Band’s legacy is a living testament to the power of music education and beyond the baton, Nowlin serves as the band’s Education Officer.

“I consider myself as a steward of this place. I have to take care of it and its people as long as it’s entrusted to me. I have a vision for what the Marine Band means to all Americans – music enthusiasts, veterans, students, teachers, patrons and future patrons of the arts. The Marine Band has a role and responsibility to make sure it meets its obligations to all those,” Nowlin said.

Three people in U.S. Marine dress uniform stand on stage
BGSU alumnus Lt. Col. Ryan Nowlin, right, receives the John Phillip Sousa baton from outgoing U.S. Marine Band conductor Col. Jason K. Fettig in a ceremony overseen by Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Christopher J. Mahoney. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Chase Baran)

A symphony of accomplishments

Equipped with his BGSU education and experiences, Nowlin’s journey has had many high notes:

From first lieutenant to director

Nowlin’s ascent through the ranks within the Marine Band is a testament to his unwavering commitment. He was appointed assistant director and commissioned as a first lieutenant in July 2014. His dedication led to subsequent promotions: captain in July 2016, major in January 2020, and finally, his current rank in December 2023.

Composing and arranging

With “The President’s Own,” Nowlin orchestrated and composed music for the Marine Band, Marine Chamber Orchestra, brass ensembles and various small ensembles. His arrangements graced national events, including collaborations with Kelly Clarkson and Beyoncé during President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Jordin Sparks performed his arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the anthem’s 200th anniversary celebration in 2014.

Honoring legacy and service

Nowlin’s compositions resonate with historical significance. In 2013, he composed the concert march “The Montford Point Marines,” paying tribute to the first African Americans who served in the United States Marine Corps. In 2018, he penned the march “Century of Service” to honor 100 years of women’s service in the Corps.

Behind the scenes

As a producer, Nowlin has shaped the Marine Band’s annual recordings since 2014. He played a pivotal role in "The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa" recording project. His collaboration with the All-Star Orchestra resulted in the Emmy award-winning program “New England Triptych.”

Heart, passion and empathy

Moss aptly describes Nowlin’s magic: “His heart and giving nature, love and respect for the art, and genuine desire for helping others enjoy the magic of music are immediately witnessed when seeing him conduct the United States Marine Band.”

 U.S. Marine Band Director Lt. Col. Ryan Nowlin raises his arms at the end of a performance
Lt. Col. Ryan Nowlin acknowledges the audience after directing “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band on Dec. 20, 2023, at the 77th annual Midwest Clinic International Band, Orchestra and Music Conference in Chicago. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Chase Baran)

A musical legacy continues

Nowlin’s current role extends beyond the spotlight. As the Band’s Education Officer, he manages Marine Band educational outreach initiatives such as Music in the Schools, Music in the High Schools, Tour Educational Outreach and the Concerto Competition for High School Musicians. His commitment to nurturing young musicians ensures that the next generation experiences the transformative power of music.

Beyond official Marine Band duties, Nowlin frequently appears as a guest conductor with high school honor bands, community and municipal bands, and university ensembles across the country.

His published music and methods resonate globally. His compositions and arrangements are used in lessons and performances around the world. Whether in a classroom or on an international stage, his legacy reverberates through the notes he has meticulously crafted.

Nowlin's honorary Doctor of Music Education degree celebrates not only his achievements but also the enduring impact of music education at BGSU. His baton has conducted a harmonious blend of education, dedication and unwavering passion. From stages at BGSU to the U.S. Marine Band’s resounding music hall, his legacy resonates.

As he receives the honorary Doctor of Music Education degree at Spring Commencement, BGSU celebrates an alumnus whose music has become the very heartbeat of the alma mater.

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Updated: 04/27/2024 09:49PM