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Cowboys, The

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John Williams

John Williams (arr. James Curnow)

Subtitle: From the Motion Picture The Cowboy and the Girl

General Info

Year: 1986
Duration: 10:00
Difficulty: III (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Alfred Music
Cost: Score and Parts - $87.00   |   Score Only (print) - $15.00


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II
Oboe I-II
Bassoon I-II
Contrabassoon (optional)
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
E-flat Alto Clarinet
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
String Bass
Piano (optional)
Harp (optional)
Celeste (optional)
Percussion I-II-III

  • Snare Drum
  • Bass Drum
  • Crash Cymbals
  • Glockenspiel (or Bells)
  • Hi-Hat
  • Suspended Cymbal
  • Tambourine
  • Triangle
  • Vibraphone
  • Xylophone


In score:

  • B-flat Trumpet II-III, m.250-256: The voices are misidentified: Trumpet III plays the harmony with the Trumpet I while Trumpet II plays the rhythmic divisi passage.

In parts:

  • B-flat Soprano Clarinet II-III, m.17-19: The rhythmic figure in meas. 17 & 18 must be moved one measure later. To accomplish this, delete meas. 19 (whole note A); then insert one measure with whole note (D) as meas. 17 (copy from meas. 16) [This will match the orchestra arrangement.]
  • E-flat Alto Clarinet, m.56, beat 3: add a quarter rest (or change the last quarter rest to a half rest)
  • E-flat Alto Clarinet, m.63: add 4/4 meter signature
  • Bassoon I-II, m.220, beat 4: change eighth note to a quarter note; delete the quarter rest
  • E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II, m.17-19: The rhythmic figure in meas. 17 & 18 must be moved one measure later. To accomplish this, delete meas. 19 (whole note E); then insert one measure with whole note (A) as meas. 17 (copy from meas. 16) [This will match the orchestra arrangement.]
  • E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II, m.148, beat 1: D should read B / Meas. 29, beat 3: change rhythm from eighth and 2 sixteenths to two sixteenths and an eighth
  • E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II, m.185, beat 3 & 4: change eighth notes to quarter notes in Bassoon cue
  • B-flat Tenor Saxophone, m.17-19: The rhythmic figure in meas. 17 & 18 must be moved one measure later. To accomplish this, delete meas. 19 (whole note A); then insert one measure with whole note (D) as meas. 17 (copy from meas. 16) [This will match the orchestra arrangement.]
  • Horn in F II, m.162, beat 3: change two quarter notes to two eighth notes
  • Horn in F II, m.212, beat 2: fix printers error above note
  • Baritone B.C., m.250, beat 2: half notes should read eighth notes
  • Mallet Percussion, m.204, beat 1: D should read C

Program Notes

John Williams' dramatic film scores have stirred millions worldwide, and Jim Curnow has adapted this famous score into an exciting Western overture. It's full of the brilliant effects, rhythmic drive and lyrical themes that are the hallmarks of a John Williams work.

- Program Note from publisher

The Cowboys, arranged by Jim Curnow, is a typical example of John Williams’s capacity to enrich a film story with an almost narrative musical score. Through music, we are transported to the Old West and experience the joys and hardships of cowboy life.

Taken from the 1972 motion picture The Cowboys starring John Wayne and Roscoe Lee Browne, the music complements the story of a 60-year-old Montana cattleman who enlists (and ultimately mentors) ten schoolboys as cowboys after the regular ranch hands have left with Gold Rush fever. The 400-mile cattle drive provides the boys with a different and harsher schooling as they learn the rigors of the job and have to deal with rustlers. The music conveys the high spirit of wild horses and their taming. Jollity around the campfire is contrasted against the loneliness of the open range. The plains have a beauty, though, which is reflected in the song of a lark. The hard work of the cattle drive, including the fording of the wide, muddy river and dealing with many fears and threats, succeeds in maturing the boys into men.

- Program Notes by California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Wind Ensemble concert program, 28 February 2015

Two icons of Hollywood crossed paths in the 1972 movie The Cowboys: legendary actor John Wayne and John Williams, dean of American film composers. The coming-of-age story features Wayne as an aging cattle rancher who hires a group of children to drive his herd from Montana to South Dakota while fending off a pack of unscrupulous cattle thieves. Overture to The Cowboys is organized like a set of variations, and Williams wisely draws from previous styles to generate a ‘western’ sound even as he places his distinctive, modern stamp on the score. The sparse melody and relentless rhythms of the primary theme recall Ennio Morricone’s genre-defining Spaghetti Westerns like The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, while the open harmonies and colorful orchestration owe much to the ‘Americana’ sound made famous in Copland’s Billy the Kid and Rodeo.

- Program Note by Shannon Graham, Jackson Lasher, Alonso O’Bannon, and Luca Vukelic for the SUNY Fredonia Wind Symphony concert program, 16 November 2021


State Ratings

  • Virginia: VI


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • Central Washington University (Ellensburg) Wind Ensemble (T. André Feagin, conductor) - 2 May 2023
  • Toronto (Ont., Can.) Youth Wind Orchestra (Colin Clarke, conductor) - 26 February 2023
  • Tyler (Tx.) Junior College Wind Ensemble (Jeremy R. Strickland, conductor) - 14 April 2022
  • Andrews University (Berrien Springs, Mich.) Wind Symphony (Byron Graves, conductor) - 24 April 2021
  • Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah) Wind Symphony (Donald Peterson, conductor) - 19 February 2021
  • University of Kansas (Lawrence) Wind Ensemble (John Leonard, conductor) - 13 September 2020
  • Foothill Symphonic Winds (Palo Alto, Calif.) (Roy Stahle, conductor) – 9 June 2019
  • Northwestern Michigan College (Traverse City) Concert Band (Patricia Brumbaugh, conductor) 22 February 2019
  • Austin (Tx.) Symphonic Band (Richard Floyd, conductor) – 10 February 2019
  • The Ohio State University (Columbus) Collegiate Winds (David Hedgecoth, conductor) – 13 November 2018
  • Atlanta (Ga.) Wind Symphony (Chris Shumick, conductor) – 14 October 2018
  • University of South Carolina Aiken Symphonic Winds (Cormac Cannon, conductor) - 22 April 2018
  • Baylor University (Waco, Tx.) Wind Ensemble) (J. Eric Wilson, conductor) – 21 April 2018
  • Prairie Wind Ensemble (East Peoria, Ill.) (Jim Tallman, conductor)– 22 October 2017
  • University of Miami (Fla.) Frost Symphonic Winds (Christian M. Noon, conductor) – 22 February 2017
  • Los Alamos (N.M.) Community Winds (T. Edward Vives, conductor) – 15 October 2016
  • United States Army Band(Ft. Myer, Va.) (Timothy J. Holtan, conductor) – 25 September 2016
  • Allan Hancock (Santa Maria, Calif.) Community Concert Band (Greg Stoll, conductor) – 12 March 2016
  • Golden State Wind Orchestra (Sacramento, Calif.) (Marlon A. Ramirez, conductor) – 27 February 2016
  • Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah) Symphonic Band (Kirt Saville, conductor) - 11 February 2016

Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

All Wind Works


  • Colburn, Michael J. (2004, June). “John Williams returns to bands where he began 50 years ago.” The Instrumentalist 58(11), 12–17.
  • The John Williams Web Pages: The Cowboys
  • Williams, J.; Curnow, J. (1986). The cowboys: from the motion picture The cowboy and the girl [score]. Warner-Tamerlane: [s.l.]