Rock Star 101

If UMW offered a Rock Star 101 course, Mark Snyder would be the undisputed choice to teach it. The assistant professor of music and 1997 Mary Washington alum has performed with nearly 100 bands in the past 30 years, from rock to jazz to classical.

Today, he plays in six different musical ventures, all while teaching classes in composition, electronic music and music theory.

Mark Snyder (center) performs with two of his students during a class session

Through his music, Snyder gives his students the opportunity to experience the music business firsthand. In fact, three of his six current projects involve UMW student and alumni musicians.

Nature Boy Explorer, an eclectic pop/rock group with a self-titled album, features Snyder on guitar and vocals, junior Becky Brown on the harp, junior Paige Naylor on the keyboards and 2012 graduate Joanna Smith on bass. Brown, Naylor and Smith all had a hand in the recording or production of the album, as well as Natasha Smoot, a 2011 graduate, who played accordion on the tracks. The band plays regionally, including as far away as Mississippi.

Closer to home, every other Saturday during the academic year, Snyder takes groups of students to downtown Fredericksburg venues for performances.

With Snyder, students learn how to book gigs, sell merchandise, create an album and how to handle life on tour.

“I have students generating material,” he said. “When they leave, they’ll have a great portfolio and be prepared for whatever they go on to do.”

Snyder, an internationally known musician and multimedia composer, returned to his alma mater in 2011, after earning degrees from Ohio University and University of Memphis and teaching in Mississippi and Alabama. He still serves as a guest artist at several universities each year and performs about 10 shows per semester.

The transition has given Snyder the opportunity to work closely with some of his former professors, including David Long and Martha Fickett, one of the main reasons he came back to UMW.

“Dave’s door was always open and he was always there to look at my music,” Snyder said of Long, now his faculty mentor. “I hope to create that type of atmosphere for my students that Dave had…”

He hopes his students will have an experience similar to his, delving into areas that interest them and learning from a variety of courses, including those in other disciplines.

“The music major is so open that you get to focus on what you want, while getting a broad base of knowledge,” he said. “For me, a web development class helped me communicate better. You never know what class will click for you.”

This fall, Snyder and the music department hosted the second electroacoustic barn dance at UMW, a gathering of more than 75 musicians from across the country for a weekend of performances and workshops.

In May, he hopes to take a small group of students and recent alumni to Germany to perform.

With all of his trips and classes, Snyder said it all comes down to communication and thinking.

“I can really convey my thoughts and feelings with sound, more so than with words,” he said.

About Brynn Boyer

Brynn Boyer is assistant director of media and public relations and a 2010 graduate of UMW.

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