Heritage High School's new band director Vincent Sneed's passion for music is matched only by his passion for educating and exploring new cultures, places and languages. The Georgia native speaks 10 languages and has visited 20 countries. Sneed hails from Lee County in southwest Georgia, where he was drum major, trombone player and piano player at Lee County High School. He earned a bachelor's in music education at Columbus State University and taught at Albany High, Kendrick High and Hardaway High where he was named Teacher of the Year for 2012 in Muscogee County and a STAR teacher in 2013. But, says Sneed, his biggest awards are the accolades his students achieve.
The News: How did you get started in music?
It's before I can remember. It's impossible for me to pinpoint a time where I said "I like this music thing." Even when I was 2, 3 years old, I had me a little cassette player. I was always singing. Any music I heard, I enjoyed. When I got into high school, I started getting into jazz and blues and gospel music.
The News: What is it about music education that drew you?
One of the biggest issues for me is that we as a country don't always appreciate cultures other than our own. Music education not only allows students to learn other cultures, but participate in the experience of other cultures by performing the music they make. That's what struck me. I speak a few languages - three at a fluent level, two at an advanced level, and I have another few I'm working on. German, French, Italian are my fluent languages. Japanese and Mandarin are my advanced languages. I'm working now on Arabic, Russian, Polish, Swahili and Creek - the native American language.
A few years ago I decided I wanted to travel to an overseas location, just to do it. I traveled to Germany and I said "Well, It's going to be important to be part of that culture when I get there." So I decided to learn German. I had a great time in Germany, in Berlin. And I was hooked from that point. I wanted to learn every language I could, every culture I could. It became, "I want to learn this language and visit this country," and so forth. Eventually, 20 countries later, here I am.
For me, what I think helps me a lot is being a musician. It's easier for me to hear how to pronounce things because my ears have been trained to listen that way. Languages like Mandarin where they have tones in their language, it's easier for me to learn than someone who doesn't have that musical training.
It's just fun for me, traveling, going to these countries to experience the culture. Students might not have the opportunity to do that much. That's why music education is important. It gives them an opportunity to participate in a culture and appreciate a culture.
The News: How did you end up deciding to come to Heritage?
I'm actually a church music director down the street at New Bethel AME in Lithonia. I knew the area. I had heard things for years about Heritage High School, from directors in Columbus and all over the place about how wonderful the music program is here. And I've personally seen, when I visit band competitions, Heritage High School's band in the past. So when the position came open, knowing that history, I was interested in it. I applied.
I was commuting (to New Bethel AME) Sundays. It was challenging. They have two services - 7:45 a.m. and 11 a.m. I would get up 3 a.m., 4 a.m. to drive over here. The position here, being so close, worked out perfectly.
The News: Tell me about your directing style and your hopes for the music program here.
I'm looking to expose the students to as much as I can. Not just types of music but taking them out to hear different things, perform at different places they might not have been before. When I was at Hardaway, for instance, I brought my students to Kennesaw State because they have a Concert Band Invitational. You also have other bands there. You get a chance to sit in the audience and hear bands they haven't heard before. That's what I'm looking to do here. Take them out to different things. Let them hear groups they haven't heard. Let them get exposed to different things.
As a teacher, music is secondary to the fact I'm an educator first. I'm using music to educate them. That's my whole philosophy first. I use that to base what music I'm going to choose. It's all about their success.
This is one of the most efficient groups of band parents I've ever worked with. It's making the transition so much simpler. Just knowing the parents are in place; they're working hard to make sure things are done on the business side of things. That's what excites me the most. I know I have some great help here. I can focus on educating the students... A program this size, you have to have some help; otherwise you wouldn't have the success it has.