News of Mizzou New Music Summer Festival Composer Steven Snowden Makes its Way Around the State

Branson grad composing musical career

Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2011

By Tyler Francke |

Steven Snowden, far right, leads a coaching session with the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble in San Francisco, Calif., as they prepare a piece written by Snowden for a West Coast tour.

Growing up in Hollister, and later near Walnut Shade, young Steven Snowden had no college aspirations and expected he would find his career in construction, like his father and many other men in his family had before him.

Then, his sophomore year, he joined the Branson High School Concert Band, where he started learning the French horn.

“I was really terrible,” Snowden said with a laugh. “But I kept practicing, and I got better and better.”

He said his improvement was due in no small part to the dedication of then-band director Eric Matzat and choir director Bob Abbott, who recently retired.

“They were very supportive, encouraging and also very good at what they do,” Snowden said. “It proves how influential your teachers can be. I became so excited about music that I wanted to do something with it.”

What he did was enroll in Missouri State University in the Music Department, graduating in 2005 with a Bachelor of Music in composition. He said he began his education in performance, but changed his mind when he tried writing music for the first time.

“When I started composing, it was like a light bulb for me,” he said. “It was really exciting. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Snowden continued his education, earning his Master’s in composition at the University of Colorado and beginning the Doctor of Musical Arts program at the University of Texas at Austin, which he hopes to complete in three more semesters.

At the same time, however, Snowden also embarked on his career in musical composition. He said he is a bit of a late bloomer in a field where many composers begin at the age of 7 or 8, which has been both a difficulty and a blessing.

“Because I got started kind of late, every time I write music, it’s really different,” he said. “I feel like I’m reinventing the wheel to a certain extent.”

But he’s also found that he  likes “being all over the place.”

“Music can express such a wide variety of things, and I want to explore a lot of those,” Snowden said. “I like writing all different kinds of music for different ensembles.”

While Snowden has received awards and fellowships from across the country, one of the most prestigious honors will be at the Mizzou New Music Summer Festival, which is being held in Columbia, just a few hours north of the town his family still calls home.

Snowden is one of eight composers selected in a nationwide search to produce a new work that will be played by Alarm Will Sound, a highly acclaimed music ensemble.

“It’s a pretty amazing opportunity. They’re one of the best-known concert music groups out there,” Snowden said. “They’re all top-of-the-line musicians.”

Snowden’s composition for the festival will be as unique as his background is in the composing world. His inspiration for the piece is the 1969 Led Zeppelin hit, “Dazed and Confused.”

“I didn’t grow up listening to classical music,” Snowden said. “I grew up listening to classic rock when I was helping my dad out at construction sites.”

Wherever Snowden’s career takes him, he said he will bring the Ozarks with him.

“When I started composing, I realized more and more that where I come from is a major part of the music I write,” he said. “There is a rich musical heritage in the Ozarks that I’m really trying to embrace. And being from that area is something I’m really proud of.”

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June 2011