Student leader follows his life passions into career path in UM music school

Posted December 5, 2013


Ben Morris’ leadership positions reflect his passions: music and nature.

Morris, who is from Chatham, N.J., is a junior in the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami.  He is a music composition/history double major.

Ben Morris

Ben Morris

He is the secretary of the UM Society of Composers, Inc. (SCI), a student group that organizes composers on campus.

Through SCI, Morris can share the music that he creates; as the student activities coordinator of the UM Honors Students’ Association (HSA), he can organize “outdoorsy” trips.

Morris has always loved music, but he did not always know he wanted it to be his career path.

“I didn’t really know I wanted to be a composer until the middle of high school,” Morris said.

Even then, he was not sure what type of composition he wanted to do.  He originally applied to the Frost School of Music as a media writing and production major.

“Back then, I only wanted to do film scoring, but then I discovered other types of music,” he said.

When asked his favorite type of music, Morris hesitated.

“That’s a tough one,” he said.  “I guess classical, because that’s what I compose the most.”

In addition, he composes jazz, pop music, film scores and rock.  He plays mostly piano, but also plays the drums.

“As a composer, Ben has a very original and mature sound to his music,” said UM music student Spencer Robelen, president of SCI.  “He uses a pleasant blend of jazz and classical techniques that gives his music a very colorful texture.”

It is difficult to keep up when Morris lists his favorite bands.

“There are a lot of bands,” he said.  “It’s always so hard to pin it down.”

Examples of his wide range of musical tastes include classic rock artists, like the Beatles and Yes; jazz artists, like Keith Jarrett, Miles Davis and Lyle Mays; classical composers, like Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland; and film composers, like John Williams and Howard Shore.

“From the moment I met [Morris], I could tell that music was his life,” said Jen Ferrante, a member of HSA.  “The way he talks about it, he can get other people excited to expand the genres they listen to.”

Morris’ hobbies are by no means limited to listening to and composing music.  He also enjoys viewing visual arts, writing film screenplays, writing philosophical stories and opinion essays, swimming, kayaking, and conversing with people.

Still, he devotes a great deal of his time to music.

To enrich his musical experience at UM, Morris joined SCI, which arranges for performers to play members’ pieces and organizes several concerts.

One of Morris’ favorite events is Scares and Scores, a collaboration between composers and UFilm Studios, UM’s film making organization.   Filmmakers make horror films that are often comedic and send them to the composers.  The composers have about a week to create a film score and then play it live.

“I like talking about ideas with people and planning creative things,” Morris said about collaborating with other artists.

As secretary, Morris takes notes at each meeting and sends recap e-mails to all SCI members, which is especially useful to those who could not attend.  He also works closely with Robelen to plan events.

“Ben Morris is a great, easygoing guy, dependable and trustworthy,” Robelen said.  “As the SCI secretary, Ben has been extremely helpful in making SCI a better, more efficient club by keeping everyone informed about events and deadlines.  He has improved SCI’s way of communicating immensely.”

Morris devotes his additional time to HSA, a club open to all Honors students at UM.  It provides members with both on-campus and off-campus activities and events to enrich Honors students’ social and academic experiences.

Morris got involved with HSA as a freshman, when he got an e-mail about the organization.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet other honors students.”

He got his position as student activities coordinator at last year’s HSA end-of-the-year banquet.

“I wasn’t really planning on applying for any position, but there was an open ballot and my friend put my name in for me.  I gave a little speech, people voted for me, and the rest is history.”

Morris has never traveled beyond the East Coast of the United States.  He came to UM to push himself to go somewhere new.

“Miami is such a different culture,” he said.  “It’s inspired me to travel abroad … hopefully over the summer or when I get out of college and have time.”

Until then, he can plan adventures to take with the club.

Sunday was the first official HSA event that Morris planned.

He organized a bus trip to the John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo, got box lunches for everybody, planned a glass-bottom boat tour at the park and sent out information to HSA members.

Morris almost had to cancel the trip because of windy weather conditions, but the wind was not as bad as it was supposed to be, so the trip went on as scheduled.

Unfortunately, though, only 12 out of 35 people who signed up attended.  Morris did not let that phase him.

“The people there really enjoyed it and we made the most of it,” he said.

Morris is lucky enough to have a lot of funding for his trips, as HSA has 500 to 600 members, each of whom has paid $50 dues.

“There are a lot of trips in the works,” Morris said.

He is planning theater-related trips to places like the Arsht Center, where HSA members might see a musical, a ballet, or an opera.

Some outdoor events he is working on are an Everglades trip, a beach trip, and midnight kayaking.

“There are a lot of things we can do.  It’s South Florida.  We have the beach and warm weather year-round.  We can do [outdoor] things even in the winter, to the jealousy of the northern schools.”

The activities that Morris arranges are not limited to trips.

In addition, “We’re trying to get more speakers involved to keep the academic part in [the club], as well.  And we’re always open to suggestions from general members.”

HSA officers all help each other with running the club and planning events.

“It’s not like each person has a single role,” Morris said.  “We do things as an e-board [executive board], rather than as individual people.  It’s like a team.”

“Ben is a great guy,” said Gabi Wagener, HSA’s historian.  “He’s always willing to help and always has a smile on his face.  He’s a great HSA officer and has had a positive influence on… the organization.”

Morris is always busy planning, not just for his clubs, but also for his life after college.

He was born in New York City, grew up nearby, and intends to return to attend graduate school.  He is considering Columbia, NYU, or a State University of New York (SUNY) school.

“I would like to get a masters and Ph.D. in music composition,” he said.  “At the same time, I would also like to do film scoring.”

Morris has two careers in mind.  The first is teaching music at the university level.  The second is a bit harder to attain.

“I want to work with professional filmmakers,” Morris explained.  “I would like to compose [music] for films, video games, or TV shows, but it’s really competitive.”

Right now, Morris is focusing on balancing his studies with his leadership positions.

“Being a music student is hard enough as it is.  You can only do so much.”

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