Longform

Mr. Snyder's Opus

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"He's a father figure to everybody," says Xavier Smith, a senior who is the band's second drum major. "He has done so much. We all look up to him."

Snyder also teaches band at Hallandale's Gulfstream Middle School and McNicol Middle School, on the Hollywood side of Pembroke Road. To the most promising students he encounters there, Snyder makes a nearly irresistible recruiting pitch: Continue under his tutelage and, when the recruiters come round, you'll get your chance to play your way into a college scholarship.

"Ever since I started recruiting, Hallandale High is a continuous stop," says Donovan Wells, band director of Bethune-Cookman's marching band. "One thing I've noticed about Mr. Snyder is not only is he concerned about educating the students as individuals; he cares about them attending college."

Snyder estimates that he's taught 150 students who have gone on to play for college bands, most of whom ended up at his alma mater, Bethune-Cookman, for which Snyder admits a slight bias.

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.

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.

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Thomas Francis