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Jennifer Sterling Snodgrass knew music would be her life from a very early age. Photo by Marie Freeman

Originally published: 2013-05-02 09:01:36
Last modified: 2013-05-02 09:03:31

Hitting the high notes

by Susan King

Jennifer Sterling Snodgrass is an associate professor of music theory and director and coordinator of graduate studies in the Hayes School of Music at Appalachian State University.

She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in music theory, aural skills and pedagogy.

Snodgrass'  love of music came naturally -- and early.  Both her parents were passionate about music, especially folk music, and she was raised in a house where four-part harmonies accompanied by the guitar were typical background music.
However, it wasn't until she was 8 years old that she discovered the true power of music.

"When I was in the fourth grade, my choral teacher, Meg Dornbrock, shared an audition call from the Virginia Opera for the children's chorus in the opera 'Hansel and Gretel,'" Snodgrass said. " I auditioned for the chorus and was asked to be one of four children to immediately join the cast of  'Una Ballo in Maschera.'  I began to tour with the Virginia Opera and performed in nine productions from 1985-1989."

"I was completely in awe of the emotional pull of music. I distinctly remember tears falling down my face in the final moments of the opera 'Carmen.'  I knew then that music would be my life.  My parents, the folk singers and lovers of all things from the 1960s, were a bit shocked when I started checking out opera LPs from the library. They were completely supportive, though," she said.

Snodgrass started her formal classical training at the age of 9, studying foreign languages and voice with the late Robert Turner of Portsmouth, Va.

Snodgrass' main instrument is voice; she plays piano, as well. In addition to being a vocalist, Snodgrass also plays piano. Her favorite musical styles are Italian art songs and traditional musical theater.

"I always wanted to be an opera singer," Snodgrass said. "There was no doubt in my mind that was my calling."

However, she had a mentor, Anthony Vaglio at Meredith College, where she  earned her undergraduate degree. Vaglio inspired her to study higher levels of music theory.
"One night, after tutoring a student for several hours, my hands were covered with dry erase markers.  I didn't want to take the time to even clean the board.  ... I was that excited about the topic. That was the moment I decided to go into music theory.
"I knew that singing was my talent, but my gift was in teaching others to understand the intricacies of music. I still get chills when I listen to certain pieces. Understanding why that happens, in terms of the musical elements, is inspiring to me, both as a listener and a performer," Snodgrass said.

Snodgrass joined Appalachian's music faculty in 2005.

Shortly thereafter, she noticed that her students were becoming more and more social.  They wanted to work together on assignments and understand each other's processes in terms of musical analysis.
"This was fascinating to me," Snodgrass said. "My background in technology helped me to find a way to integrate this collaborative style in the classroom with a pedagogically sound technological approach.

"Using the DyKnow software system, my students can work together on an analysis, often resulting in a different conclusion based on the collaborative thought," she said.

The DyKnow software allows teachers to determine how well students understand concepts during a lesson, rather than afterward. Using a Tablet PC, students are able to mark up a musical score, which allows them to see both the big picture of musical form and the more intricate details of harmony.

In 2006, Snodgrass was awarded the Tablet PC Higher Education Award from the Microsoft Corporation for her integration of the Tablet PC into undergraduate theory courses.

From 2006-10, Snodgrass was the research development officer for the Hayes School of Music, evaluating external funding in the performing arts. She has received numerous grants and awards in relation to technology and music instruction, including the 2012 College Music Society Technology Initiative Award.

Snodgrass' latest research involves understanding the specific pedagogies for teaching students enrolled in music industry and music business programs.  The result of this research is the proposed text, "Contemporary Musicianship:  Analysis and the Artist" to be published by Oxford University Press in 2014.

"Contemporary Musicianship" presents traditional music theory and analysis in an innovative manner, combining music history, popular culture, ear training and composition to reach a broader audience, including the amateur musician and the music business and industry student.

Snodgrass has been appointed to the editorial board for the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, and she is the co-chairwoman of the newly launched Music Theory Pedagogy Online.

Based on her expertise in technology and education, Snodgrass holds certification training for the Technology Institute for Music Educators and leads workshops in technology on both the K-12 and university level.

Snodgrass earned a bachelor of music degree in vocal performance from Meredith College and a master of music degree in music theory from the University of Tennessee.

She was the first student to graduate from the University of Tennessee with a technology focus within the music theory curriculum. In 2002, Snodgrass earned a doctorate from the University of Maryland, where her research focused on computer-assisted instruction and pedagogy. Her dissertation resulted in the publication of the InForm musical analysis software program.

To learn more about her work, go to