Mr. Snyder's Opus

A police beating can't hold back the Hallandale band director and his irrepressible charges.

For economically challenged minority youngsters, band offers a powerful incentive to continue their education.

"Anytime young people can see other young people bettering themselves for a career and also that they're band students who do what they do very well, I think it is a positive trend," Bethune-Cookman's Wells says. "Students should have people to look up to that are close to their age, who they can relate to."

There are other fringe benefits to membership in a well-regarded band program, such as collaborations with world-famous rappers. Snyder brought his kids to Miami for the shooting of a video starring Nelly and Snoop Dogg. Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew came to Hallandale to join a performance. The band has marched in the Orange Bowl Parade and played for Gov. Jeb Bush at an October 2001 drug summit.

For Hallandale students, Snyder's band program can be a fast track to college.
For Hallandale students, Snyder's band program can be a fast track to college.
The band mixes classic marching music with students' hip-hop requests.
The band mixes classic marching music with students' hip-hop requests.

Then there's the traveling. Atlanta is one annual stop. Orlando another. Tallahassee and Jacksonville are common destinations. "I had the opportunity to go with the band to Daytona last year," Principal Chambers says. "He didn't put them up in a motel. He put them up in a hotel on the beach. They had to dress up to go to dinner. He's not just teaching them band; he's exposing them to places and things that they would never have seen because of not having the money."

On a Sunday in September, the Hallandale High School marching band is in its classroom, dressed in shorts and engaged in a lethargic, uneven rehearsal, delaying till the last minute the wearing of their polyester uniforms and the walk outside into the afternoon sun.

A parent of one band member instructs a reporter, "Can you write that we need money? It's hard. A lot of these kids don't have money. They can compete musicwise, but they can't compete fashionwise, with the look."

If so, it's hard to tell at a glance. Some of the band members wear black tennis shoes, rather than the polished black boots, but the crisp white spats nearly cover the shoes anyway. The uniforms aren't ideal for marching through sweltering days in South Florida, but they look brand new: a crimson sash across cream blazers, a yellow lightning bolt that shoots through the H on the back.

Snyder is stationed in front of the band room, dressed in a sleeveless Hallandale High T-shirt, jean shorts, and sandals. This band is small by his standards — 85 students — but the season has just begun, and Snyder expects to have his usual 125 or so by year's end. He says he's "rebuilding." A talented group, but this one is young and in need of discipline. Snyder has a knack for it.

"Sit up, sit up, SIT UP!" he says to a slouching boy. Then to another: "Take off your hat! You're in a building, son."

The second drum major, Xavier Smith, is Snyder's stand-in during performances. Band members are expected to obey him the same way they do Snyder, though the smooth-faced Xavier lacks Snyder's gravitas. "Melvin? Melvin!" Snyder barks to a boy who is slow to follow Xavier's order. "You heard what he said — and you just keep playing. Put your jacket on. Put your jacket on."

"Mr. Snyder runs a tight ship," says Jewel Figueroas, mother of Jessica Scott, a freshman who plays cymbals. The practices and weekend meets mean extra driving, but Figueroas knows that "a busy kid is a child who is not in trouble. When they're in practice, there's somewhere else they're not."

This is the day the band will perform at Clash of the Titans, a band meet featuring a showdown between two of the black colleges' best marching bands: Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman. Hallandale is among six South Florida high school bands invited to compete in the event's opening act. Two coaches, a school bus, and a van are idling outside.

Snyder changes into a pumpkin-colored suit, and the band members, in full garb and grouped according to musical specialty, march to the buses. Plumes of diesel exhaust fill the Hallandale High parking lot as the buses turn out of the school's parking lot onto NW Ninth Avenue. Parents follow in a phalanx of minivans and SUVs.

The meet is to be staged at the football stadium on the Miami campus of Florida International University. A northbound storm intercepts the southbound motorcade, low-slung clouds hurling intermittent showers, enough so that by the time the buses park, band members must march through a parking lot that's all mud. Each strides in time with the beat of its percussion section. Hallandale High's baton girls wear toothy grins. In crimson leotards and white boots, they strut proudly through the quagmire, ignoring the mud that splatters their feet and ankles.

Another downpour sends band members back to shelter; when they finally return, the sun is an even crueler menace. In the bleachers, there's no escaping it.

It's here that Snyder's influence is most apparent — as the temperature rises, the Hallandale High kids keep their jackets zipped. The dancing girls are careful to all sit in the same coquettish pose, managing smiles, betraying only some nervous blinks as their gold eye shadow begins to run with sweat. Hallandale High is on last.

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