In 2015, Music & Arts launched its first ever Music Educator of the Year Award and was instantly flooded with nominations. There were multiple votes for a North Carolina music educator named Gordon Snyder. After looking at his nominations, references, and resume, it was clear we found our winner. Renier Fee, marketing director at Music & Arts, had the opportunity to interview Mr. Snyder and learn more about his contributions to music education.
Congratulations on winning the Music & Arts’ 2015 Music Educator of the Year award and thank you for sitting down to chat with me. Let’s start at the beginning. You started playing the trumpet. How did that passion come about?
From my perspective, passion is like building a fire. In order for a fire to get going, it has to have something to ignite it as well as fuel to grow it. Even when a fire dies down, there are still the embers under it all which sit in wait for more fuel to be added causing it to flare up again.
Because my parents came from a musical background, they were able to recognize something in me at an early age and began placing me in positions where I’d have the opportunity to explore. At age 5, I was in the children’s choir at church and ended up singing, “Jesus Loves Me” as a solo. From there, I took violin and piano lessons which I was just terrible at; I would’ve rather had chores then to practice. Even with this, I loved music but my attention span was minimal; however that would change with a family move.
The summer before my fifth grade year my family moved from Indiana to Ohio. Because of the move, I stopped participating in music so we could get settled. As the school year began, I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful fifth grade music teacher, Ms. Miller, who would be a part of fully igniting my love for music. She helped me become a part of a regional boy’s choir as well as got me started on trumpet. As I went into middle school, my choir director, Mrs. Kristoff , and band director, Mr. Fosnaugh, kept me rolling challenging me daily to be and do more. When I got to high school, again it was my choir director, Mrs. Ottarson, and band directors, Mr. Hanes and later Mr. Novak, who raised their expectations of me musically as well as took time to develop my leadership skills. Coupled with this, I had a wonderful Minister of Music, Mrs. Mowry, who inspired me to use my talents to minister to others. Together with my parents, this team of people set in motion the passion and drive I have for music today
What instruments do you specialize in?
For most musicians, instruments are personal. In other words, there’s something about how an instrument feels when held and played which makes it unique to you. I don’t have or want the most expensive instrument out there but instead something which feels like an extension of me and the kind of playing I’m doing.
With that in mind, my go-to trumpet is a Bach Stradivarius however, all through high school and most of college I used a Getzen Eterna; it’s is still one of my favorite instruments as it’s older and there’s something about the weight of it in my hands which I enjoy. Several years ago now, I was fortunate to find a Yamaha Herald Trumpet at a local pawn shop and had it refurbished; it’s fun to use for special occasions. To round out my collection I use a Conn Vintage One Flugelhorn. For most of these instruments, I use various Schilke mouthpieces as they offer me the best of both worlds – warmth with a bright edge.
Outside of the brass family, I have a couple of guitars. When I was serving in the church I led children’s worship and needed an instrument which was small to move through the kids but also had a good sound. I found and used an acoustic electric Seagull Parlor guitar which even today I keep in my office in case I have a spare minute. However, my big boy guitar is my Gibson J-45 Custom and I use it for everything from my Rock Band class to church performances. It’s one of the best instruments I’ve had the chance to play on.
When you graduated from Liberty University with a Bachelor of Music in Voice and Trumpet, what was your original career plan?
To be honest, I don’t know if I’ve ever really had an “original career plan.” Throughout my childhood, I had so many varying interests but was fortunate to have parents who supported in me trying just about anything. Along with this, my faith in God has always been a source of guidance as I have never been able to dream dreams big enough without Him. As a result, I always try to reach for opportunities which are bigger than myself – something I know I can’t do alone. With these early foundations in mind, I was taught to be goal oriented and have a plan and as a result, learned a work ethic and character which reminds me even today to persevere as well as be passionate about what I do yet open to new ideas. Coupled with this, I learned I could fail and it not diminish who I was but instead, became another way to learn and grow. Overall, what I needed to do most was be myself and the rest would fall into place. As a result of this mindset, I have always been ready for an opportunity when it reveals itself.
What was the most important thing you learned from your first job at the Baptist Church creating music programs for children? Do you still apply that to your curriculum today?
I think of my life experiences like a cloudy staircase. Each step leads upward but the next step is just out of focus right up until it isn’t. At the same time, you can clearly look back at where you’ve been so you can take from those other steps to reach the next. In other words, you have to trust what you’ve been doing will lead you forward otherwise you’re on the wrong stair case. The result of this has a two-fold influence on curriculum. First, it allows for reflection and review. In other words, did what I do work? Will it work again? What can I do to make it better? Second, it allows for you to take calculated risks. Since you know what worked in the past, you can foresee what choices will continue the process which will then raise ability and expectation of both the organization and yourself. Curriculum and related processes won’t get better unless you do. The bottom line is to never stop learning.
How does Music & Arts help you with your classroom needs?
Because of the diversity of my classes, needs can vary from day to day and Music & Arts has been there to provide me with advice and support. Even though it is a large company, the one-on-one consultations and knowledgeable sales people make my job easier as I know there will be quality tools in the hands of my students. My reps, David Lail and Dan Nickel, don’t show up to sell me something. They genuinely care about the program and want to see me succeed. Because of their knowledge and backgrounds, I feel like they are extensions of my program as I know I can call them to ask questions about anything from why an instrument isn’t working to a trouble shooting question. At the end of the day, they understand what I do takes a team effort and they are active members of my team.
You are no stranger to music accolades. You have been a 3 time regional Teacher of the Year Nominee, your 2014 Winter Guard won took first place in the AAA division at CWEA Championships, and you’ve been featured in Teaching Music Magazine and InTune Magazine. Was the Music & Arts 2015 Music Educator of the Year nomination a surprise to you?
Being nominated for this award was a surprise to me as my focus is on student growth and the development of the organization. It is still hard to believe I was nominated let alone am the recipient of this award as the program is built not only on the work I do but also on the backs of my instructional staff, students, parents, administration, and community. While sometimes challenging, having a team of people collaborating reminds us that no one person can take credit for the end result. In other words, it’s an “us” and “we” not an “I” or “me” situation
You received multiple nominations for Music & Arts’ Music Educator of the Year award and your application came with heart-warming recommendation letters from current students. You’ve clearly made an impact in your school. What do you believe is your most important contribution to music education?
I am an advocate for music education.
Any music educator knows the academic and life benefits which music and the arts have on the development of a student. However, many take for granted that this information is wide spread and comprehended by the masses. If people understood the power of music, we wouldn’t see the wide spread financial cuts which have decimated some programs across the country. With this in mind, I make it a point to get the message of music out there by finding local, regional, and state events and competitions for the band to participate in. Because of the varying styles of the ensembles, I can accommodate everything from a music festival to a ground breaking to an arts council event and everything in between. As a result, the program has become known for participating in these kinds of events and the community looks forward to seeing students give back to their community.
I make it a point to talk about what the students are accomplishing to anybody in the school who will listen. I feel like I have some of the best and brightest students and because I have a unique perspective on them, I am able to help share with teachers not only what they are accomplishing musically but also their life situations. In addition, whenever I find an article or information about music, its benefits, or how it connects to another discipline, I reach out to teachers, administrators, and school board members and share it.
In the Classroom
My students know I am here to promote, support, defend, and champion them. While I have high expectations, they know I will be there to help them reach and exceed the goals set. They understand when I recognize them for achievements that they really accomplished something and I am proud of them. Beyond the musical, my students know I will be there for them as people helping them any way I can. Sometimes it’s easy to only see students in context of the classroom but if they are to learn than we must address their outside issues. However, this doesn’t mean their life is an excuse to not succeed. Because of this mindset, they ask for advice and are looking to find a passion in something like I have in teaching. At the end of the day, I not only want to have developed good musicians but great people.
What is your advice for future band directors out there?
The basis of the advice I can give would be to live by the concept of the Golden Rule which tells us to, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” With this as foundation, we will enter each day with a positive attitude. We will take time for people and truly listen to them. We won’t be afraid to ask for help or worried to fail. We can enter our schools with a passion that can’t help but be caught by those who come in contact with us. As a result, we can be creative and innovative because teaching music is an extension of who we are and something we get to do not something we have to do. At the end of each day, we will have made a choice to either do nothing or to have made a difference. Our students need what music can provide but we have to be willing to do what it takes to deliver the tools needed for them to succeed because what we do is greater than the subject we teach.
What can we expect from Gordon Snyder in 2016?
I feel like I live by the old adage of, “slow and steady wins the race.” With each new year, I have reimagined what the program can be based upon the students and what I see and hear from them. As a result, one of the plans on the table is to develop a Music Therapy curriculum which will have a connection to a local collegiate level program. In conjunction with this, there will eventually be an additional course designed for special needs and at risk students with the hope long term of services being developed for the student body at large. Coupled with this, I am planning to finish my masters this year as well as continue to be a part of the development of the Worship Arts at Catawba College. In my spare time, I want to look for more opportunities for me to speak and be a part of conferences and workshops. While 2015 was a great year for both me and the program, I will enter into my 10th year at A.L. Brown High School looking forward to the opportunities which lie ahead.
For more Educator Interviews, check out The Business of Teaching Music.