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."