New Berlin - You can't hear The Housing Projects of New York City in the strong, low voice of the string bass expertly bowed by New Berlin resident Laura Snyder as the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra performs.
Snyder spent her first years in the projects until her parents, a butcher and a nurse's aide, could scrape together enough money for a house. Even though there was little money for nonessentials, there was always music in the house. The little girl growing up felt it -- and still feels it, even now.
"I'm always singing," said the articulate, dynamic and funny Laura Snyder. "I walk, I sing, I shower, I sing."
Synder won her seat on the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra over 60 other musicians. That was in 1970, and she has been a force for good and good music ever since. And now, Civic Music, a group that supports music education and performance opportunities for young musicians in the greater Milwaukee area, has bestowed on her its 2016 Professional in the Arts Award.
She's a pillar
Nancy Herro, Civic Music executive director, said, "Laura Snyder has been a pillar of the Milwaukee music scene for over 40 years."
"Her service as a member of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra for 46 years and counting is only the tip of the iceberg," Herro said. "She is a teacher, a mentor and a community leader."
Her seat on the symphony orchestra didn't come easily.
As a child, Snyder practiced two or three hours every day, first on the piano, then on the string bass. As she watched professional musicians doing what she wanted to do, she knew that they had a whole lot of hours of practice behind them.
Those two or three hours a day grew to six after Snyder won a full scholarship to Indiana University, famed for its music program. Those hours in the Indiana University music practice rooms were spent with the knowledge that young musicians all over the country were also in practice rooms and that they would audition for the same orchestras she wanted to play in.
"It's a commitment," Snyder said. "There was a lot I had to do to get where I am now."
And that's where she seems to be made to be.
"I love the sounds around me, and I love that I can contribute," she said. The string bass is not the star of the orchestra. It doesn't do magical trills to thrill the audience. But like its name, it's the the base of the music.
"In its own way, it's the foundation of the strings. We're the root. It's exciting," Snyder said.
If she had any advice for youngsters longing for musical careers,she said it is a lot of "Ps."
"You have to practice, persevere and you have to perform," she said. "You have to play in different groups to get the feel."
Music has taken the upbeat bass player all over the world with the orchestra. However, the trip that changed her life was in 2001 when she and her now ex-husband visited a town in South Africa just outside of Cape Town. The children desperately wanted to go to school, but the town was too poor.
One little boy with scabs all over his face had doused himself with oil and set himself ablaze because he couldn't go to school. His father had squandered all the money the boy had laboriously saved to attend school.
That little boy struck a note deep in Snyder's soul. She had to do something. But musicians, even symphony musicians, haven't the wherewithal to make much of a difference with such a need.
Then she got an idea.
All around her was a musical family. She herself had sung with the symphony many times.
Found a way
That musical family couldn't afford to build a school for the South African children, but they could afford recording studio time, paying a pianist and creating a CD/tape to sell.
"Precious Lord, Take My Hand," a collection of hymns, Negro spirituals and gospel songs, was Snyder's heart's response to the plight of that little boy and the other children.
She and the family sang at churches in the Milwaukee area and let the congregations know about the plight of those children. Between donating 100 percent of the sales and donations from others, the CDs and tapes raised $70,000.
Now, there's a school, a church and a playground in that little town, with the help of churches in New Zealand..
"It was exciting," to see it all on a trip back to the town, Snyder said. On that visit, she saw how much the children treasured their school. When trash fell on the floor, "six kids came running, because it was their school. They had pride to be able to have a school," she said.
Snyder has a feel for helping others, especially children, and she has a passion for bringing music to children.
"I love to see what music does for young kids," she said. She loves to see what it does for everyone.
"I've seen how it can bring a person who's down to have a more positive approach," she said.
Snyder teaches music lessons. In July 2003 she traveled to Haiti to teach string bass to underprivileged children.
She said, "My goal is to be an instrument. If God has given me a gift to use, I'll use it and take care of it."
She has now ministered in a variety of settings and locales, including churches, conferences, retreats, seminars and tours. In 1998 and 1999, she traveled to Africa to minister and sing in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi and South Africa.
Snyder adds the Civic Music Professional in the Arts Award to the Milwaukee Times Newspaper's Black Excellence Award in Music and to two previous Civic Music awards for her achievements in studio music and her overall work as a professional musician and music educator.