by Dan Holland
For former Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School music teacher and marching band director Maj. Ryan J. Nowlin, being nominated to become the 29th director of the United States Marine Band – “The President’s Own” – is a rewarding journey he never expected to take during his time with the school district from 2005-2010.
Nowlin, who originally accepted a position as staff arranger with the band in June 2010, reflected on his career.
“I wasn’t looking at all for anything else; we planned to stay in this area,” said Nowlin. “We had just bought a house and started our family. But for the first time in 30 years, a position opened in the U.S. Marine Band. The person who proceeded me – Stephen Bulla – had been there for 30 years. I was reached out to by a few members of the ensemble, and then by the music community, that this position was coming.”
“It was a six-month audition, and that brought us out here to Washington,” Nowlin continued. “It was so hard to leave, and I had to tell the students really soon, but they were all very supportive. It was a special time at BBHHS; I bleed red and gold now, and I absolutely loved my time there.”
Having three grandfathers who all served during WWII factored into Nowlin’s call to military service.
Nowlin, who is stationed with his family at Marine Barracks, Washington D.C., realized he would have to join the Marine Corp in his early 30s as a requirement of taking the position. He was subsequently promoted to assistant band director in 2014, and will assume his new position as director on Dec. 20, replacing Col. Jason K. Fettig.
Nowlin, who grew up in Broadview Heights and graduated from North Royalton High School in 1996, earned a bachelor’s degree in music education in 2000 and a master’s degree in music education and conducting in 2004 from Bowling Green State University.
He originally developed a love of music from his grandmother, who taught him how to play piano at a very young age.
“She had a player piano with the rolls, and my fingers would drop as the keys dropped,” he recalled. “I began to appreciate music from a very young age because we had music in the house; that’s where the seeds were planted.”
Some of Nowlin’s most memorable moments as staff arranger included writing the music for the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, during which he worked with music artists Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce.
“Working with Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce and the band to bring some pieces to life during the ceremony that connected with over a million people on the National Mall and experiencing that national moment and hearing the music come to life lasted with me,” he said.
As “The President’s Own,” the band performs at a variety of White House functions and other locales around the Nation’s Capital.
“I’ve been a part of so many national ceremonies and events at The White House,” Nowlin reflected. “To serve in that capacity for three presidents now is very special and memorable for me. We also have played many ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery and State funerals. We did that for President Geroge H. W. Bush and Defense Secretary Ash Carter – they are such memorable moments that the Marine Band and chamber orchestra provided the music for in a very personal way.”
Although Nowlin has performed in some of the most esteemed music venues across the nation, he still loves connecting with local communities at high school gymnasiums and auditoriums.
“There is something about playing in those gymnasiums that really resonates with me,” he said. “By the end of the night, it’s one large connection where everyone is red white and blue. I think about the power this organization has to connect with communities, which is what also connected me to the Brecksville-Broadview Heights community. It’s America’s band, and it connects with communities in a very special way.”
Nowlin will be returning to Cleveland when the U.S. Marine Band performs Oct. 30 at Severance Hall; a venue he last performed at in 2018.
“It’s wonderful just to be in that historical space, and the band sounds amazing in there,” said Nowlin. “It’s really surreal to be back in those sacred halls with the Marine Band. It’s free and open to the public; all of our concerts are. It’s America’s band and the people’s band.”
“There’s a lot of living history there, as The U.S. Marine Band has been around for 225 years; founded in 1798,” Nowlin added. “There have only been 28 directors at this point, including John Philip Sousa, who was our 17th director. It’s the oldest continuously active musical organization in the country; we have performed for every inauguration since Thomas Jefferson.” ∞
On our cover (photo): Major Ryan J. Nowlin, a Broadview Heights native and former band director at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School, was recently appointed as the 29th director of the U.S. Marine Band, which will be performing at Cleveland’s Severance Hall Oct. 30. Photo submitted.