Gabriella Snyder is a mezzo-soprano and composer of music drama/opera, solo vocal, choral and instrumental music. Her one-act opera, The Rough-Face Girl: An Algonquin Cinderella, was premiered by Lynn-based MassTheatrica in October 2009. Her three-act musical drama, Prince of Peace - A Passion Play, based on the passion play of award-winning poet, Catherine de Vinck, was premiered in 2003 at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in Boston. This recorded performance featured conductor, organ, five soloists, and members of the Saengerfest Men's Chorus and Concord Madrigals.
Her song cycle, Ordinary Miracles - Poetry of Recovery, was performed for the dedication concert
in July 1995 at the reopening of the Pont-Aven School of Art in Pont-Aven, Brittany, France, an artists' colony first begun by the Impressionist painter, Paul Gauguin. Her choral setting
of Psalm 150 was premiered in June 1999 in a tribute at Immaculate Conception Parish observing the 350th year of the founding of Malden, MA. Snyder has also written piano
etudes, Duo for Violin and Cello, instrumental, choral and solo vocal pieces. One of her choral anthems, an arrangement of the Christmas song Stars of Glory, was
published in 2008 by GIA Publications in Chicago.
An advocate of new music, Snyder was the understudy for Metropolitan Opera soprano, Louise Wohlafka, in the world premier of Dan Locklair's opera, Good Tidings from the Holy Beast. She performed in the premier of the improvisational music drama, Between the Lines, at the Boston Public Library, Copley Square, for the Boston-based New Opera Theater Ensemble (N.O.T.E.).
Her work in opera and oratorio includes roles with the Newton Opera Workshop: Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Musetta in La Boheme, and Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro. She sang the role of The Abbess in Puccini's Suor Angelica with Mass Theatrica. She sang the role of Mrs. Gleaton in Susannah with Lowell House Opera, and the role of Lucy in Menotti's The Telephone at Cabot House, both at Harvard University. She appeared as Rose Maybud in a production of Ruddigore by the Binghamton Summer Savoyards, and sang the leading role in Donizetti's Rita with the Lyric Opera of the Twin Tiers, New York. As a concert soloist, she has worked with, among others, the Woods Hole Cantata Consort, the Falmouth Interfaith Chorus, the Stow Community Chorus, and the Harpur Chorale of Binghamton University, NY. She has served as Interim Music Minister and soprano soloist at St. Paul's Episcopal Church of Malden, MA, and soloist/section leader at First Baptist Church of Malden, and as a soloist at many churches in a number of denominations.
Not only a classical musician, Ms. Snyder also has a longtime interest in traditional music with its raw power and harmonies. The songs she has written in the folk idiom reflect this penchant. Some, like Oh What a Day, echo the sounds of the Southern uplands; others, like God's Hand to You have a distinct Celtic flavor. Her Christmas carol Come With Me rings with the sounds of the Renaissance. She was the principal singer and mountain dulcimer player from 1989 to 1993 with The Sacred Harp Ensemble, a group she founded to perform traditional American sacred music. She performed from 1993 to 1997 with the acoustic duo Snyder & Rasmussen which produced a recording of Celtic, traditional and original songs called Keeper of Memories. Her CD Ancient Christmas - Songs & Carolsshowcases many rarely heard carols from the Appalachian mountains, the native American Huron tribe, England, Ireland and France -- from Medieval times to the present.
Ms. Snyder has performed traditional music featuring mountain dulcimer at festivals and coffeehouses throughout New England, including First Night Boston, First Night Pittsfield, Full Cup Coffeehouse, Stoneham, TryWorks Coffeehouse, New Bedford, Jacob's Ladder Coffeehouse, Malden, the Malden Family Festival, the Troy Arts Festival, NH, Pilgrim Pines Conference Center, NH, as well as historical societies and libraries. She has played live on WKNH-FM, Keene, NH and WSMU-FM, New Bedford, MA.
Ms. Snyder studied voice with Louise Wohlafka, formerly a soloist at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She was a student of the late David Blair McClosky of Boston Conservatory, known as John F. Kennedy's vocal coach during the presidential campaign in 1960. She learned the Berton Coffin method (phonetic basis of bel canto) from Robert Gartside, retired professor of the Voice Faculty at Boston University's School for the Arts. Ms. Snyder studied counterpoint at Harvard College, Cambridge, MA, drama at Roberson Center for the Arts, Binghamton, New York, and orchestration with faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Ms. Snyder in Malden, MA, where since 1988 she has worked with Bread of Life, a faith-based volunteer organization that provides free food for homeless individuals, working families, the elderly and disabled.
People have asked me over the years “Why are you working in social services instead of making a career in music? You should be auditioning for Broadway or American Idol…” There are many responses to that question that have to do with the classical music I love, my individual abilities, and the life I want to have, but I always come back to one memory. My mother told me that ever since I was a little girl I wanted to do two things: to sing and to save the world.
When I was 6 years old, my parents put me and my sisters in a Catholic grade school. We weren’t Catholic, but my folks believed this school would provide a better education. I loved the school and the nuns (who yes – played kickball in their long, black habits!) Through my exposure to these wonderful women and to the teachings of Jesus, two ideas began to form gradually in my mind. The first was that I was extremely blessed. I was one of the “rich” of the world that Jesus and the Hebrew scriptures spoke about. The second was that “to whom much has been given, much will be required,” as Jesus also said.
Even in my childish mind I realized that, unlike many other children across the globe, I had food, clean water, clothing, a home, loving parents. And yet, I had done nothing at all to deserve this, even as they had done nothing at all to be denied it. By some luck of the draw, I had been born an American citizen, a member of one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world, with parents who were highly educated, and with the opportunity to be educated, even as a girl, and to work in whatever field I chose as an adult.
As I grew, these ideas grew, and pressure built inside me. At the age of 13, I began vocal training with the world-class soprano, Louise Wohlafka (another undeserved blessing.) I threw myself into academics and ended up graduating in the top ten of my high school class of over 600 students. I entered vocal competitions with my Dad as my accompanist. I started writing music. I performed with local opera and musical theatre companies. I graduated college with a B.S. in music and biochemistry, got my first real job working with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and was engaged to be married.
But at the age of 24, I looked at my life and realized I was quite unhappy. I had everything…and it wasn’t enough. I was always looking over my shoulder at what others had, their achievements, their abilities, their looks. Perfectionism, and striving to live up to an ideal, had paralyzed me…and made me liar. I could do very little just for pleasure. All my efforts had to be for achievement. Even my reading list was full of titles of classics that one was “supposed” to read, with the result that I never got to them. And how could I keep up the appearance that I was happy and successful without deception? I told “white lies” to hide mistakes I made at work, or to cover up for saying hurtful things about people, or to avoid confrontation. The problem with “white lies” is that I could push them out of my mind, but not my heart.
I was sitting in my car one day when I finally said to myself “This is no way to live. I need help.” I began hanging out with a wonderful lady, Almary, in Woods Hole, who was always laughing, singing hymns at the piano, and talking about things that God was doing in her life. She had an open door for young people like me – technicians, researchers, fisherman off the boats in Woods Hole – and gave us motherly love, food and a listening ear. This amazing lady was like a magnet. Where did she get that joy? I started going to prayer meetings with her at the local Episcopal church in Falmouth. All kinds of folks were there of many nationalities and denominations – Catholics and Presbyterians and Baptists – singing and praying for each other. They prayed for me too. And I started to read the Bible earnestly every day, especially the Gospels, the accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching. Finally, one night in the summer of 1984, sitting in my bedroom, I prayed “God, I’m not sure if you exist, and I’m not sure if Jesus is really the savior of the world who loves me and died for me, but if it’s true, help me to believe.” I’ll never know how it came about, or what God does to give you faith, but God answered my prayer. A couple of weeks later, I knew that I believed…and my world changed, just like that. Instead of being filled with fear of judgment and the burden of living up to expectations, I knew that God loved me exactly as I was, knew completely all my faults, injuries against others, and lies…and forgave me. I could mess up, and it wouldn’t make me unlovable to God.
I had an incredible, almost indescribable, feeling of freedom. Life, and religion, was not about conforming to rules and do’s and don’ts. It was about listening to God and living daringly. It wasn’t about conformity. It was about hearing my calling any given day or any given moment – and acting on it. The world looked so beautiful, full of hope, full of wonderful things to see and do. I read a book for the first time in years just for the joy of reading, and it happened to be “The Secret Garden,” a story of healing and love. I would attend Sunday worship services and just grin from ear to ear when I heard passages read from the Bible, as if I were hearing them for the first time. I had that incredible joy that I had seen in Almary. And I couldn’t think of anything more meaningful to do with my life than to follow Jesus, using whatever talents, money and time I had.
After a couple of years, I realized that working in the lab, which I viewed as an interesting way to pay the bills while I tried to make a career in the opera world, was not using my gifts and personality. I started volunteering at the Pine Street Inn, a large homeless shelter in Boston, where I had moved. In 1988 the new position of “Homeless Advocate” was created to be part of what became Bread of Life, a faith-based, free food organization. I applied for the job and have worked with this ministry ever since.
The two streams of giving in my life – sharing my music and sharing what I have with people in need – continue. Knowing that only God can save the world, I seek in my small way to be part of His work. One of the most meaningful passages in the Bible for me are the words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink….I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.” I’m on the pilgrimage, stumbling many times, wandering in thought and step, grateful to the people walking ahead of me and leading the way, and grateful to the people who are walking or who have walked the path beside me: my late husband Richard, my friend Tom the former Director of Bread of Life, the many church volunteers there, and the people who are poor who humble me and teach me so much. As the old hymn goes “this world is not my home, I’m only passing through.” And as I read once, long ago in the library of my grade school, “I shall pass this way but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” – Gabriella