Friday, January 4, 2013

The Man from Mars: He's not so different.

“If there is something past infinity, what’s past the past?” Craig Snyder said, as we sat in the conference room overlooking CMAC. It wasn’t a question, but a hypothetical serving to illustrate his curiosity towards life. In the same vein, he began describing how he could picture what Canandaigua was like when only Native Americans lived here. I looked out the windows and imagined the old Canandaigua, wooded and without roads or CMAC or the pier or houses. “Perhaps there’s a longhouse,” he said, “but I can imagine it all.” Then, after establishing this historic vista, the scene crumbled as Snyder explained how people don’t care about that stuff; they’re not interested in it; they’d rather talk about Pawn Stars or Jersey Shore or—especially popular every four years—the election. Then he took a step back, as if to avoid offending others: “There’s nothing really wrong with that, I guess.”

I’ve been told he’s from Mars, and that his mind is always in outer space—confirmation that Craig’s aware of how others view him—but, really, he’s from a small industrial town in rural Pennsylvania. It’s the kind of town where the majority of people rely on a single factory to provide employment, “Like Kodak with Rochester,” Snyder said.

He recalled a story about how, as a boy, his music career was jeopardized by another kid. This specific kid (Craig didn’t give a name), jealous his brother wasn’t paying attention to him over the other boys, decided to squeeze a shotgun shell in a vice and then drive a nail into the top of it. Before anyone could stop him, the jealous boy was already in mid swing. Craig, reenacting the scene in front of me, turned his head and cupped his hands over his ears like a set of earmuffs. “I’m convinced to this day I would’ve had permanent hearing loss.”

This story piques my interest because when I ask him about the most important skills he possesses as a professional musician his ears are at the top of the list. During last spring’s faculty recital a group of professors played John Zorn’s In the Temple of Hadjarim. Snyder noticed that the triangle--an instrument used mostly to provide a different timbre--was a major seventh above the underlying harmony.

Many would argue Snyder has some of the best guitar chops in the region, perhaps further. This is true, but it would be an injustice to call him just a shredder. He’s a complete musician, interested in more than how many notes he can fit into an eight-bar solo. Search “Craig Snyder Guitar” on Youtube and witness his skills firsthand. You can see him cover some of his musical heroes--Jimi Hendrix and Steely Dan--or watch some of his originals. Either way, from his flashy solos to his softer melodic moments, you’ll notice it’s more than just notes.

He’s told me, twice now, about an article he was reading in a Jazz education magazine. In the article, a musician is speaking about one of his old professors and he says, “My professor always used to tell me, ‘Music isn’t about music. Music is about life.’” Craig especially likes this quote. He can relate in more than one way because, while he lives through music, Craig Snyder is also an educator.

During the school year he works at FLCC as a guitar instructor and ensemble director. He also teaches guitar and bass at the prestigious Hochstein School of Music and Dance. The time in between school, Snyder also gives private lessons, but summers are aimed primarily at refreshing his technique and gigging.

These are all details pertinent to his career, but these career-specifics didn’t incite much discussion. Craig seemed more interested in ideas rather than his own accomplishments. When we started talking about the atmosphere surrounding local music, Snyder had lots to say.

One main focus was the problems and areas surrounding music which could use improvement. I asked if he liked any local bands, he cited just two: The Moho Collective and Will O’Reilly. He said most local music is, “cookie-cutter” and “copycat” music.

“Is this a problem of demand--no one wants innovative music? Or is it the supply--musicians, for some reason, don’t want to create innovative music?” I asked.

Craig Snyder believes it’s both. First, he cites the most popular radio stations as dictators of musical taste. He believes when you scan through the radio stations, the one with the strongest signal, which translates to the loudest station, has the most influence on musical tastes in the region. Referring to a Frank Zappa quote, he said, “People don’t know what they like. They like what they know.”

We also spoke about the changing business model surrounding a career in music. At only fifteen Snyder realized music would be the way he made a living. Four years later he was on his own, supporting himself through the guitar, through music. Gigging paid the bills, and he had one almost every day of the week in his early career. This is a stark contrast with how things now work. Today, according to Snyder, the demand for live music has changed. People no longer want to listen to the band and enjoy the music, they want it there as background music. On top of that, the internet has developed a culture where everyone wants their music for free, and “venues want to pay the musicians in soup.”

Though venues and audience play a role in a musician’s career, Snyder believes many bands lack imagination when it comes to landing gigs and also cultivating a better musical culture in the Rochester area. “Kids always come up to me and say, ‘Hey Craig, man, how’d you get a gig there? I’ve never gotten a gig there!’ And I’m thinking to myself, ‘Well, did you ask? Did you have a promo package ready in case the manager wasn’t there?’” Leaving the question as a hypothetical, Snyder’s facial expression revealed how he doubted the eager-to-gig person had been prepared.

Re-focusing on the positive, Snyder mentioned how it’s important that musicians give back. He believes giving back would help motivate the community to return the favor when a musician is in need. As an example, Snyder mentioned Todd Tarantello, the owner of V-Pub, The Villager, and Pizano’s-- all on Main Street, Canandaigua. Over this past summer, Tarantello re-modeled the back room to the V-Pub, installing a new stage and began bringing in bands from the surrounding area--Roots Collider, Mosaic Foundation, Wonderland House Band to name a few. Tarantello also opened up the stage on most Thursday nights for anyone wanting to come down and jam, even supplying a drum kit, microphones, a bass amp, and some control over the new PA system.

In relation to this, Snyder mentioned it’d be a good idea for musicians to form a “musical coalition” that could provide, “mutual work between musicians and possible venues.” He described this relationship as a two-way street, where venues would pay without hassle, and musicians would be prepared and reliable. Craig had a curiosity as to why there weren’t any young people trying to establish this type of collaboration.

As we wrapped up our conversation, Snyder told me he enjoyed our discussion and was glad I asked to interview him. I thanked him and asked, “Anything else you want to add?” Looking out the window, remembering his historic description of Canandaigua, I wondered whether he would bring the conversation full circle. Then he answered.

“Human beings are going to die. Life is what you make it.” It’s a pretty down-to-earth statement, coming from a man of Mars.

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