Almost everyone in the Pensacola area has interacted with or been influenced by Don Snowden. After his decades of contributing to music education, he now gets to enjoy retirement! You may recognize Don from conducting the Pensacola Civic Band or playing in the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra. We were fortunate enough to get a short interview with him, and see into the life of the man who has impacted the lives of so many.
- Looking back at your 44 years of teaching, what would you say has been your greatest accomplishment and/or proudest moment? Oh, I have had so many, it’s hard to say. In 1985, at Foley High School, my symphonic band had 43 seniors out of 65 players. I taught them all from sixth grade on. We performed at USM’s Conductors Conference and played little pieces like Overture to Candide and the Pines of the Appian Way. Later that spring, we entered a contest in Orlando and won the Gold Medal award. Only 2 percent of bands in America at that time won that. It was quite a group.
- Did you have any unique approaches with your beginners? Of course, I loved teaching beginners! I would start the first six weeks on Flutophones to teach them how to learn to read music. When they got their instruments, I would only give them their mouthpieces, and we worked on them for a couple of weeks. Then I got them to play a song on their horns as quickly as possible to show off to their parents.
- Can you describe your musical background? Well, in the fifth grade, I was 4 foot six inches, and at football practice, they used me as a tackling dummy. When the band director came by to give the Selmer Music Survey, I saw it as my chance to not get hurt anymore. The problem was, I FLUNKED THE TEST — the band director wouldn’t let me in band! I persisted, waiting for him to come to school each day and saying “hi” to him. He finally got the idea and said, “let’s try you out.” I wanted to play trumpet but couldn’t fit my lips in the mouthpiece, so he said “let’s try trombone,” and it fit. I was so bad for a couple of years, my father banished me to the garage, but during the summers between the 6th and 8th grade, the band director gave me lessons for $1.50 an hour, which I paid for out of lawn mowing money. He had me playing out of college freshman books, but I had no idea they were hard…I just did it. It paid off because in the ninth grade, I was 4th chair in the top All State Band in Alabama, playing for Frederick Fennell.
- What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started? (Key lessons learned along the way?) How to deal with people with empathy and instill an enthusiasm as much as I have.
- What influenced you to pursue teaching as a career? I realized at age 13 or 14 that I wanted to be a teacher. The band director allowed me to conduct the high school band in the eighth grade during the spring concert. It was an amazing experience, and I think that sealed the deal. By the way, that band director is my mentor and hero, James Harris. When I was finishing college, he asked the college to have me as a student teacher at Foley High School. They allowed it, and the day after I finished, they hired me. So, in essence, they got a full-time assistant director for half-price that year, $4,000. I still go to Uriah, Alabama each year to visit him and his wife, Nancye, and let them know about my year.
- What instrument do you think you would have played if you hadn’t chosen trombone? Trumpet, I heard it got all the girls.
- Based on your own experiences and the experiences of those you’ve worked with, what would you say is the most important aspect of teaching? Instilling in them the love that you have for music and letting each student know that you care about them.
- What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your journey? Administrators that were bean-counters.
- Whom do you admire most/consider your biggest influence, both as a musician and educator? Of course, Jim Harris, but also Peter Rubardt, music director of the Pensacola Symphony. I have been lucky enough to be a member of the symphony for over 40 years. During that time, watching Maestro Rubardt in rehearsals honed my skills as a musician and conductor. Being able to continue performing on trombone is one of the greatest things I have been able to continue in my career. I use my horn on the podium for demonstration, and a funny quip was uttered last year at one of the All-Florida Community Band rehearsals. I had the good fortune to be selected as one of the conductors of this fine group, and, of course, I had my horn talk for me sometimes. One of the distinguished conductors, Gary Green, from the University of Miami, turned to the person next to him and said “That damn Snowden, I can’t remember what my major instrument was….”
- What do you do for fun? I love to cook, and also play golf.
- What’s something people don’t know about you? I listen to New Age music.
- Is there a specific philosophy or approach that guides you in teaching and/or performing? I try to give 110% to everything that I do. At the end of the day, I want to be able to answer two questions. Did I do the very best I could have done? And, did I make a difference in someone’s life today?
- Though you must be looking forward to retirement, what will you miss about teaching? I will miss the interaction with the students. They keep you young.
- What is next for you? I will continue to perform with the symphony and conduct the choir and handbells at Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church. I will play molto golf, and be a good grandfather to my two grandsons. On August 1st, I plan to start on my book “I Spit on the Governor.” It will be a book of stories on the crazy stuff that has happened in my career.
- If you were talking with someone who knew nothing about music performance and/or education, how would you describe what makes your field special?
The ability to create something of beauty, and the ability to help people enjoy that beauty that is created, is one of the most fulfilling aspects of this culture we call music.