For UMW music professor Mark Snyder, teaching is a chance to honor mentors and give back

October 20, 2016


University of Mary Washington Professor Mark Snyder tries to relax his students during a Sept. 28 recording session featuring their own compositions. He encourages students to push themselves creatively and be their own muses

Article for the October 19th Free Lance Star. By Rob Hedelt.

I’ve always been intrigued by the notion of people getting something and then giving back, whether the subject is life skills, finances or learning.

It’s what made me jump at the chance to talk to University of Mary Washington music professor Mark Snyder, recently named a quarterfinalist for the 2017 Music Educator Award presented by the Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation.

That nomination and a rapidly growing list of honors and achievements earned by Snyder’s students make it worth sharing the difference the popular professor makes in their lives.

But one other thing added to my interest: learning that he’s motivated to teach because of the difference two teachers made in his life.

The two, both part of his life when he was a student at North Stafford High School, were music teacher and band director John Easley and drama teacher Fred Franklin.

“Mr. Easley taught me to listen to all kinds of good music, and to trust myself, while Mr. Franklin convinced me that I had talent and gave me opportunities to use it,” said Snyder.

I dropped in on one of Snyder’s electronic music classes recently, a session where the dozen or so students played pieces they’d made by recording, blending and manipulating sound recordings made on the campus grounds.

Watching Snyder’s rapport with his students—transitioning from joviality at the start of the class to a serious, academically based look at each piece’s strengths and weaknesses—I had to smile.

It was very similar to the way I saw Franklin connect with his drama students at North Stafford, many of whom have gone on to be professional actors, directors and teachers, some right in Stafford County.

Both men are real enough and accessible enough to connect with their students, holding them to high standards once that connection has been made.

Snyder, whose courses range from “Technology for Musicians” to “Audio Production” and from “MIDI Composition” to “Great Masterworks,” has been busy since he began teaching at UMW in 2011.

He’s designed a new music curriculum, built a recording studio and a music production lab, and has been the creator and director of the Electroacoustic Barn Dance, a three-day festival of electronic music and art that brings composers and performers from around the world to campus each year.

But he’d rather talk about his students’ accomplishments:

The fact that 47 of his students have had 85 adjudicated/peer reviewed performances of their works at national conferences in the last four years. That 119 compositions by 58 UMW composers have been performed 347 times at 124 concerts, and that 29 UMW student musicians have performed those compositions 194 times at 121 concerts.

He beams mentioning that student Austin O’Rourke, from Culpeper County, won the 2015 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, that Stephen Hennessey was named a finalist for the same award in 2016 and that former student Becky Brown’s composition “Hold Still” was selected to be on the Society of Electroacoustic Composers in the United States CD for classical music in 2016.

I met with Brown before sitting in on the electronic music class and was mesmerized when she performed that piece, which mixes sound and video, a work where she bares her soul in the spoken word.

She’s working at the University of Richmond now as a music technical specialist, handling a range of duties and responsibilities there.

“Mr. Snyder pushed me musically to try things I’d never done before,” she said.

O’Rourke, whose striking piece includes dueling piano and bass lines, said much the same.

“His main message was to be myself musically,” he said, “that I needed to be my main source composing music.”

Snyder has taken a far-ranging trek from North Stafford High to UMW, a zigzag course that included an undergraduate degree at UMW before getting master’s and doctorate degrees from Ohio University and the University of Memphis.

The musician, who plays everything from drums to the tuba and from the accordion to the guitar, has been in more bands than you can count on one hand, some still playing and recording everything from rock to folk to electronic music.

He taught music technology and production at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., and similar classes at the University of North Alabama in Florence, Ala., before taking his current post at UMW in 2011.

The work that leads many of the students to compose and take in the Barn Dance every year is the combination of music, video and more that make them multifaceted in today’s job market.

“They learn that they have talents they didn’t know about, and to push the boundaries of what they can create,” he said. “I hope in some way, I’m doing for them what my teachers did for me.”

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Mark Snyder listens to his students as they analyze their work during a September recording session at the University of Mary Washington’s studio.

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Cole Masaitis (left), a UMW senior, plays guitar while sophomore Drake Dragone plays violin on Masaitis’ composition during a recording session on campus.


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