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A career of note: Cellist retires from symphony after 36 years

By APRILL BRANDON
April 19, 2010 at 3:03 p.m.
Updated April 20, 2010 at 11:21 p.m.

Gerald Snyder happily plays the Popeye theme, remembering playing it for his children when they were young. From building a harpsicord with his wife to playing cello with the Victoria Symphony for 36 years, Snyder's life is filled with music.

UPCOMING SYMPHONY EVENTS

On Thursday, the Victoria Symphony will be hosting its annual Downtown Rhythms event at One O'Connor Plaza from 5-10 p.m. The symphony will be playing selections from pops, jazz and movie favorites. Special guest performances will include the O'Connor Elementary Rhythms, Victoria College Jazz Combo, Victoria school district Intermediate String Class, Edna High School Jazz Band, the MHS Percussion Ensemble and local band Coastal Bend. The event is free and open to the public.

On Saturday, the Victoria Symphony will hold its last concert of the season at 8 p.m. at the Victoria College Auditorium. Special guest artist will be guitarist Robert Belinic. Tickets start at $16 and are available by calling 361-576-4500, online at www.victoriasymphony.com, at the Victoria Symphony office, 2112 N. Navarro St., or at the box office the night of the performance.

From the time he was born, Gerald Snyder's Italian mother had one wish: That her son play music.

And play he did. For 75 years, in fact, Snyder played. Starting at the age of 5 on the piano and eventually moving on to the cello, Snyder played all over the country and in his hometown of Victoria.

About to turn 80, however, Snyder has decided to retire from his position as principal cellist with the Victoria Symphony. Having been with the symphony since its inception 36 years ago, he will play his final orchestral note this Saturday.

"My eyesight, hearing and fingers don't work as they used to," Snyder said about why he was retiring. "I knew it was time to hang it up. It was a hard decision, but I realized my faculties were diminishing and didn't do justice to the music as it used to."

Walking through Snyder's home, it's easy to see why retiring wasn't an easy decision. All throughout his custom-built house in Mission Valley are reminders of his love of music. A specially built closet holds his bass and his cello, which was made in 1830 in England by a famous family of string makers. A harpsichord he helped build with his own two hands sits in a corner and in another room sits a gleaming piano. Musical artwork and knickknacks line shelves and sheet music rests on practice stands. His outdoor pool is in the shape of a harpsichord.

Even Snyder's former day job as an engineer at DuPont for 30 years was merely a means to continue to play music. No matter what city the company transferred him to, Snyder always joined the local orchestra, including various symphonies in Texas, Louisiana and Ohio.

"I used my vocation as an engineer to subsidize my avocation as a musician," he said. "In college at the University of Illinois and Juilliard, I studied music and was a cello major and during the Korean War, I was about to be drafted when I auditioned and was accepted into the Navy band in Washington, D.C. I avoided the draft by doing something that I love to do, and I do it better than dodging bullets."

It's that love and passion for music Snyder has had his entire life that makes him such an amazing musician, fellow Victoria Symphony cellist Nancy Bandy said. It also makes losing him all that much harder.

"He is the most naturally gifted musician I've ever encountered. He was born with amazing talent," she added. "He's going to be extremely difficult to replace. I've learned an incredible amount from him as a player."

It's not just all raw talent that has kept Snyder at the top of his music game for so many decades, music director Daryl One said. Snyder's work ethic is just as impressive.

"When I think of him, the first thing that comes to mind is that he is very meticulous and well- prepared. He would begin preparing for concert months and months early and was one of the few musicians that would call me with questions," One said.

Not to mention that all those musical instruments in Snyder's house aren't just for show.

"The great thing about Gerald is that he does so many things. He plays cello and bass and has filled in before for us on the piano and harpsichord," One added. "He's been invaluable to the orchestra and for all the things he does, it will be hard to replace him."

Although Saturday's Victoria Symphony concert will mark his final official performance, the music won't stop for Snyder. In addition to helping teach a cello class for fourth- and fifth-graders in Victoria, Snyder also gets together once a year with his family where, for two or three days, they just play music.

"I'm not quitting music all together. I will play, one way or the other," he said with a smile.

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