Longform

Mr. Snyder's Opus

Page 4 of 6

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.

Show business was never more challenging.

The Hallandale kids do a laudable job of keeping their composure, which is broken only after they spy the arrival of the awesome Bethune-Cookman marching band.

The collegians march in perfect lockstep to a precise snare drum, looking impossibly cool despite the heat, resplendent in their maroon uniforms with gold trim. The younger Hallandale students gape with admiration; the seniors among them holler out the names of Bethune-Cookman students who came from Hallandale, hoping their friends will turn their heads.

Members of this band played in the 2002 film Drumline, which celebrated a style of marching that is equal parts musical performance and modern dance. The movement has grown slowly but steadily since the 1960s, advanced by Dr. William P. Foster, band director at Florida A&M, who wanted to distinguish his "Marching 100" from the conventional marches at most universities.

"Dr. Foster at Florida A&M took that same style... and kind of customized it to fit the needs and the desires of our young black college musicians," says Bethune-Cookman director Wells, whose band is an old rival of FAMU's. "The steps changed a little bit. The knees went a little higher. It was more aggressive, more entertaining, more stylish, more exciting."

Foster and those who admired his style freed their bands to play more contemporary music — pop, rhythm and blues, and, more recently, hip-hop. "The final thing, that really is our signature piece, is that we started to dance," Wells says.

All of this gave a fresh coat of glamour to being in band. "I think it's the selection of the music," Xavier Smith says of the band's popularity at the school. Alongside standards like "The Pink Panther," the band mixes the familiar bass lines of hip-hop hits like E-40's "U and Dat." The crowd is happy to supply the lyrics.

One recent afternoon, the band shared its football field with the football team. A crowd of student spectators all sat on the band's side of the field. When a football player made a spectacular catch, no one noticed, but when the band left the field, the bleachers emptied. Here, band seems to have more social cachet than football.




On the evening of November 7, 2004, as a bruised and bandaged Snyder sat in a Broward County Jail cell, the job of repairing the marching band's spirit fell to the parents.

Pamela Lamar-Dukes had a daughter in the band, and she'd watched Snyder conduct practices many times before the night she saw him taken down by police.

"If you're in a marching band, there's certain discipline that you have to have," she says. "You must have respect for authority. You must be where you are supposed to be."

It came as a huge shock to those students to see what happened to the conveyor of that message. "They're seeing their band director manhandled by cops; they see him kicked and punched — there was no way for him to defend himself," Lamar-Dukes says. "They arrest him. We hear that it's for assault, and that makes no sense, because he didn't hit anyone. The students could see him."

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Thomas Francis