Troy Moon, Pensacola State College
Pensacola State music major Hanna Hammac played a few simple exercises on the euphonium while Pensacola State College Performing Arts Department Head and instructor Don Snowden played along on his trombone.
She’s a member of the College’s wind ensemble, even though she had no desire to play in a band when she first enrolled in PSC.
“I was an incoming music major, but I didn’t want to be in band,’’ Hammac recalled. “He (Snowden) told me ‘I know you hated band in high school, but you can get through it.’ He made me like band again.’’
In fact, Snowden has been such a major influence on Hammac’s life that when she had to write an essay for a scholarship application, she wrote about Snowden.
“He means everything to the College and all the Performing Arts students,’’ she said, prompting a smile from Snowden. “I actually wrote my essay on him because he’s such an important figure in my life.”
“I didn’t know that,’’ Snowden said of the essay.
“I told you four times,’’ she snapped back.
“I have a bad memory” was his reply. But even if Snowden only remembers a fraction of the events, achievements and special moments during his 33 years at Pensacola State College, he’ll have memories to spare.
Snowden retires this summer and his departure is already triggering memories of his decades-long PSC career. He came to then Pensacola Junior College in 1987 and became Performing Arts Department head in 1992.
“It’s winding down and I spend a lot of time reflecting,’’ Snowden said. “I’m trying to make it business as usual, but yeah, there’s a lot of time thinking ‘This could be the last time I do this’ or ‘This could be the last time I see this person.’ It’s not that I’m sad about leaving. It’s just that it’s going to be a much different life after this.”
Snowden’s upcoming departure has triggered numerous recent accolades from the Northwest Florida community at large.
One of the most prestigious accolades was Snowden’s selection as the Greater Pensacola Chamber’s PACE Award Professional Leader of the Year during the 60th annual awards gala held in early March.
Shortly thereafter, WEAR-TV 3 selected Snowden as an “Angel in Our Midst’’ for his many musical and civic contributions to the College and the Pensacola area at large.
In past years, Snowden was a two-time winner of the Arts Council of Northwest Florida’s “Muriel Shugart Award” for his work at the College and with the Pensacola Civic Band. He was also awarded the “Sudler Silver Scroll Award” by the John Philip Sousa Foundation.
“It’s almost embarrassing,’’ Snowden said of the recognitions. “It’s overwhelming, but it’s really a tribute to all those people around me who have helped me throughout the years. I don’t know if it’s a reaffirmation of all the stuff that we’ve done around here. It’s rewarding and humbling.”
Snowden’s musical resume in Pensacola is far from humble. He’s been a member of the Pensacola Symphony for 40 years. He’s also the conductor of the Pensacola Civic Band, and music director at the Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church. He plans to remain in the Pensacola Symphony, where he plays trombone, and to remain music director at his church.
“And, of course, I have two grandboys I want to have some fun with,’’ said Snowden, who is married to well-known regional jazz vocalist Holly Shelton. “And I love playing golf. Today is the 38th day I’ve worked without a day off, and you know it’s been since January since I’ve played any golf.”
Snowden earned his Bachelor of Music Education degree from Livingston University and a Master of Musical Education degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. Before arriving at the College, Snowden taught music for 11 years for middle schools in Baldwin County, Alabama.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of the job is watching the effect you can have on students,’’ he said. “That’s what I really enjoy.”
He harkened back to Hammac, who he was practicing with earlier.
“She couldn’t play her way out of a wet paper sack when she got here,’’ Snowden said. “Now, she’s grown as a musician, improving every step of the way.”
Hammac is one of the thousands he has instructed over the decades ─ either in classroom or band settings.
“It’s important that we encourage music and teach music and try to install an appreciation for all the arts,’’ Snowden said. “But music goes deep into the soul and into the heart and into the brain. When someone plays a beautiful musical line, it just touches you. It’s one of the very few things that can give you goosebumps. I get goosebumps every day when I’m playing or listening to music.” (He listens to a lot of New Age jazz music. As for performing, he plays all the wind instruments.)
Besides golf and grandkids, Snowden also plans to write a book on his musical adventures, from teaching to performing on grand stages across the country.
“I’m going to miss a lot of things about PSC,’’ he said. “The faculty, the students, all the relationships. But it’s been a great experience.”
PSC President Ed Meadows saluted Snowden’s contributions to the college and the region.
“He has brought a lot of recognition to PSC because of his involvement in the civic band and the community arts in Pensacola. He’s been instrumental in helping a lot of students prosper in their performing arts careers. He’s been a valuable member of our PSC family and has helped thousands of students strive to make their dreams a reality.”
PHOTO: Don Snowden plays the trombone as he rehearses with the Pensacola Civic Band. Photo by Troy Moon