Brian Woods ’19 attended Shenandoah University to study with one of the most respected piano pedagogues in the world, Distinguished Artist-in-Residence, Chair of Keyboard Division and Professor of Piano John O’Conor, D.M.A. He wanted to take his piano playing to the next level and after his trial lesson, he knew he had found the right mentor for him to reach his artistic and professional goals.
“John not only taught me how to play the piano at the highest level, but he taught me how to live a life in music that is filled with passion, hard work, and laughter,” said Woods. “Whether we are having a drink together or perfecting a Beethoven sonata in the studio, he continues to teach me so much about how to be the best version of myself, both as a musician and a human being.”
In addition to the mentorship he received from O’Conor, Woods enjoyed rehearsing in piano quartets and participating in special lectures given by Coordinator of Music Literature and Associate Professor of Music History and Literature Laurie McManus, Ph.D., during his time at Shenandoah.
Woods is a touring concert pianist who performs across both the United States and Canada. Along with touring solo recitals as a concert pianist, he also performs concertos with orchestras and tours universities, where he teaches piano masterclasses and career workshops.
Outside of performing and teaching, Woods is the music director for the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF) in St. Louis, Missouri, where he schedules monthly concerts for the WCHOF Music Series. The WCHOF is not only an international chess destination, but one of the premier chamber music presenters in the Midwest. When Woods arranges the monthly concerts, he contacts local or regional freelancers and musicians from the St. Louis Symphony. He also markets and produces shows as well as contributes artistically to exhibits and other community offerings at the WCHOF.
Prior to this position, Woods was solely working as a freelancer. This included private teaching, solo concerts, collaborative work with singers and instrumentalists and accompanying rehearsals for opera productions at universities and professional companies.
“While I’ve been lucky to travel the world with my music, my most rewarding experiences are absolutely on a personal level,” said Woods. “[Especially] when audience members approach me following a performance to tell me how deeply they were moved by my playing.”
Woods claims that the “tight-knit community” of the Shenandoah Conservatory is what helped him succeed. Professors like Associate Professor of Cello Julian Schwarz, M.M., John O’Conor and Anna Lee van Buren Endowed Chair in Clarinet, Coordinator of Winds and Percussion and Professor of Clarinet Garrick Zoeter, M.M., helped him carry the human aspect of music-making into his professional career.
“Music is always about people, their experiences and emotions,” said Woods. Shenandoah helped teach him that if you focus on the human connective experience that you cannot go wrong.
Woods’ advice for students in his profession is to: “Ask for help. Your professors are there to help you, and if they are as personable as [my] professors [were] at SU, they would be happy to meet for coffee or chat on the phone. There are so many aspects of the music industry that I had no idea how to navigate on my own, and I’m grateful I mustered the courage to ask my mentors and other musicians I respect for advice.”