Alex Woods ’18
Music is a family affair for Alex Woods ’18. In fact, without music, he might not be here today. His parents met while they were both studying music education in Philadelphia and ever since Woods showed an interest of his own, they have nurtured his gift, making sure their youngest son grew up with a love for melodies, harmonies and rhythms.
Now a music and religious studies double major at Pomona College, Woods has built up an impressive body of work that ranges across genres both classical and modern, in both academic and extra-curricular contexts.
Music is meant to be experienced with other people, Woods says, and Pomona has proved to be the ideal place to do just that. Through jazz, chamber music and student bands, he has found people who share his passion and with whom he can find common ground in an environment that can get downright hectic at times.
Playing the piano, Woods has performed with campus ensembles such as the Pomona College’s Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble, while also presenting his solo work in several recitals and performances. Woods also explores a more modern area of music by writing compositions of his own and playing piano in various student rock bands such as Details, Particles and Hot Like Sauce, which have performed at events including Pitzer College’s Kohoutek Music Festival and Claremont McKenna College’s McKennapalooza.
“What I value the most is that everyone here is so busy all the time but we can still find time to play together and people place a priority on playing music together,” says Woods. “It’s inspiring and I wouldn't want to keep doing it if there weren't other people playing with me. You're engaging to the same end and that can be a really powerful thing.”
He credits his piano instructor, Professor of Music Genevieve Lee, his advisor, Professor of Music Donna Di Grazia, and Director of the Pomona College Jazz Ensemble Barb Catlin with helping him grow as a musician.
“The most valuable thing about the Pomona Music Department is how it allows you to branch out and have high level instruction in so many different fields,” says Woods. “[If] you go to a conservatory of music, you don’t get the same level of theory and history as you do here, it’s all performance. I feel like I've gotten a comparable level of performance training here…and that's thanks to the department and their wide set of skills.”
“Alex is what we call a ‘triple threat’ in the music business; he's a great musician, composer and a beautiful human being,” says Catlin. “He has inspired our jazz ensemble musically and socially. We are very grateful to have him as our friend and musical colleague at Pomona!”
Managing such a multi-layered involvement in music along with classes and a social life might seem overwhelming, but Woods came to Pomona prepared for such a task. He began taking piano lessons from his mother at an early age, but it wasn’t until the age of 12 that music became a passion.
“I think I started really realizing [my passion] when I started playing in ensembles toward the end of middle school and early high school,” says Woods. “Just being around other talented musicians of my age was really inspiring.”
It was in high school that Woods began to flourish as a musician, joining the jazz band and playing chamber music, in addition to his private lessons. He performed accompaniment for school musicals and even started composing a bit on his own. It’s no surprise then that he decided to continue his studies at Pomona. Though initially he wasn’t sure about pursuing a music major, he felt the Pomona’s intimate atmosphere combined with the larger Claremont Colleges resources would allow him to pursue his academic interests at a high level alongside his music. And the California weather didn’t hurt either, of course.
As far as his musical career plans go, Woods plans to pursue a master’s degree in collaborative piano after completing his senior recital next year. For now, he’ll continue refining his skills, sometimes practicing at Thatcher Music Building for up to five hours in one sitting, and mentoring introductory music classes with fellow classmates. “Teaching is another one of my big interests, so I merged that with music,” says Woods.
"As a music mentor and tutor, Alex has shown himself to be a very gifted teacher: dedicated, innovative, thoughtful, and patient," says Di Grazia. "He is versatile, genuinely engaged, and deeply committed to learning and to reaching out to others. It has been such a pleasure watching him grow as a scholar and as a musician."
Eron Smith ’16
Growing up, I was heavily involved in music. I played piano, oboe, some clarinet, and even tried sousaphone. I composed, released a couple of original songwriting albums, and performed in recitals. I didn’t have a fantastic work ethic when it came to practicing, but I thought I wanted to attend a conservatory. After some unfortunate auditions and a lot of soul-searching, I wisely chose Pomona instead, hoping to double major in music and math.
After my first year, I was still doing well in math but losing enthusiasm. I had developed other interests in foreign languages, but music remained my primary focus. I wasn’t sure what subfields I was interested in, but I was sure I liked music enough to declare, so I did. After that, everything began falling into place. I found my love in music theory, and my academic motivation doubled. Here was work that thrilled me, a field that engaged my emotions as well as my intellect.
I may have taken a somewhat backwards route to choosing my major, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The intuition that led me to declare a music major has since led me to some of the most exciting and challenging questions I’ve ever encountered. The music department is full of amazing, intelligent, and encouraging professors—it’s a small, intimate department, but so many different ideas and interests bounce around here under the roof of the affectionately hated Thatcher Music Building. With the help of the department, I’m preparing for graduate work with independent studies and summer research applications, worked to death by a fervent enthusiasm for life as a musician and a scholar.
Jeremy Taylor ‘18
My experience with music has primarily been performance-based and during family gatherings and church functions. Those two of the three parts of my simple Arkansas life, family and church, were the perimeter of my musical involvement. The last part, school, was a place where I would sink knee-deep in STEM curriculum.
When I began to explore what I could do with music in the academic field, I was beyond enthusiastic about the prospect of studying it, but also saddened because my high school career was more than half over. I had it in my head that, without a sufficient number of years of formal study in music, higher education courses would be out of the question.
Thankfully, I applied to Pomona College, a liberal arts school that values holistic education and promotes an environment where all intellectual passions hold equal weight. I sang in the Pomona College Choir in the fall semester, and then in the Pomona College Glee Club in the spring semester. Joining the choir was the best decision I could make. It opened me to a world I would have never discovered with the perspective I was holding onto about scholarly study in music.
To my surprise, I engaged multiple academic skills all at once while experiencing the joy of artistic expression. By the end of the year, I had accomplished a repertoire easily comprised of multiple different languages, musical styles, and in different settings. My tour along the East Coast with the Glee Club cannot be summed up in the pictures I took, but lingers in the harmonies that filled the walls of the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. and other venues.
All of these things happened in one year, and it was also my first year at Pomona College. My sophomore year is starting with music courses in theory and history, and my simple life has now expanded to accommodate the memories of my first year and the prospect of majoring in music. I can affirm now that my musical passion is academic at its source.