A Strong Personality on the Podium

Band director Penny Snead reflects on her 36 years of teaching in the District before she retires


With a smile, band director Penny Snead hugs junior Lilly Harris Dec 6 in the Greg Parker Auditorium. ”[My greatest success as a teacher is] the relationships that I built with students,” Snead said. “Maybe even through music.” + photo by Evan Johnson

Veronica Meiss (she/her), Managing Editor

“Let’s start at the beginning.” 

Band director Penny Snead makes eye contact with the euphonium and tuba players, cueing them into the beginning of the piece. Soon the melody is passed to the trombones and trumpets. After them, the woodwinds join in. Before long, every instrument in the band is playing the first movement of “First Suite in E Flat” by Gustav Holst. 

After 36 years with the director’s baton in her hand, Snead is retiring. She began her teaching career at SM North in 1986 after studying music education at the University of Kansas. In 2000, she joined the NW family, along with Dr. Lisa Gruman. In the 22 years Snead taught here, she reinvented the music program. 

“I the tradition of dignity and class with this organization,” Snead said. “When I first got here, the students in the marching band would go to games and change out of their uniforms at halftime and do the remainder of the game in just street clothes. I lived with that for a year. I didn’t want to live with it, but I also didn’t new teacher comes in and immediately changes a bunch of things. The second year I just, I just couldn’t do it. A lot of students were up in arms about it. I think a couple of kids quit over it.”

Snead was the first female music director in the Shawnee Mission School District. When she first began teaching at SM North, she was told by a band booster parent that they would have preferred a man. 

“ was hard,” Snead said. “I remember I took my jazz band to a jazz festival once and a friend told me that one of the judges said that I was flirting with the judges. I had no communication with the judges. I still find this so appalling.”

Incidents such as this are not just a thing of the past. 

“I would say 90% of the time we go to a marching festival, whoever’s in charge always goes to ,” Snead said. “They just assume I’m the dance team coach.”

Assumptions such as these, as well as Snead’s own desire to be the best, have driven her choice of role models.

 “The people that I looked up to the most were strong personalities on the podium,” Snead said. “Colonel Arnold Gabriel was the conductor of the United States Air Force Band and guest clinician a couple of times for a band that I was in. He was so inspiring on the podium. I think I molded myself a bit after him.”

Looking back at her career, Snead reflected on the pride she has felt during her students’ performances.

“The symphonic band performed at the Kansas Music Educators Convention in front of an auditorium full of musicians,” Snead said. “When we finished our final note, in the silence after we played, you could hear an audible ‘wow.’”

Another one of Snead’s favorite memories is a piece called “A Movement for Rosa,” composed by Mark Camphouse and dedicated to Rosa Parks.

 “There are just so many emotional moments in it,” Snead said. “Toward the end, a solo comes in with ‘We Shall Overcome.’ I almost never got through that without crying.”

After Snead retires, assistant band director Brett Eichman will step onto the podium.

“I am very happy for him,” Snead said. “I am happy for the kids. I was really pleased to see the reaction of delight when his name was announced. He’s worked with Mr. Talley and I for seven years. I think was certainly the easiest thing on everybody.”

The band members watch Snead carefully as her clenched hands freeze in the air and the final note echoes briefly in the band room. With tears in her eyes, she tells the band they can pack up, knowing this is one of her final high school band rehearsals.