Martin Voss `06
Director of Communications
Activities: Quaker Campus (all four years), admission tour guide (all four years), admission fellow (junior year), choir, Vocé, and "Syncopated Pants” (a barbershop quartet I co-founded as a senior).
What first attracted you to Whittier College? When the process of looking at colleges started, I knew I wanted two things: a liberal arts school and a pleasant climate. Whittier fit the bill on paper. When I went to visit and interview, I felt welcomed in a sincere way that demonstrated the school's interest in me as a complete person, both in terms of who I was at that time and who I would become by graduation.
Why did you choose to study music? I've always been a decent writer and assumed I would major in English, but after showing up to my freshman English class with drastically different interpretations of the reading from everyone else, I remembered the piano proficiency exam I took on a whim during freshman orientation after which music professor Stephen Cook told me I should have applied for a talent scholarship. I figured I should give it a shot, so I walked across the street and talked to Professor Cook about majoring in music. He explained the coursework and assured me I could handle it. I had a pretty strong music background from taking piano lessons and singing in choir in junior high and high school. By the time I was a senior at Whittier I was able to play, hear, and recite things that as a freshman I would have deemed impossible.
Describe your experience at Whittier College. Who was your favorite professor? My favorite music professor was Professor Cook. The entire music faculty was a tireless advocate of mine, but especially Professor Cook. I took only a handful of proper classes with him, but I studied piano with him privately for seven semesters and sang in the choir with him. It was, and remains, a transformative relationship for me. I entered college a shy, meek, skinny kid and I exited a noticeably more confident skinny young man. This is due in large part to Professor Cook. He had me figured out on day one and he knew when to push me, knew when to affirm me, knew when to joke with me, and knew when to stand aside and let me work through things on my own.
What was your most memorable moment at Whittier College? My most memorable moment was my last Whittier College Choir concert as a senior. That was the best the choir had been in my time at Whittier and we sang well. Vocé sang well, and the barbershop quartet sang well. I had the privilege to acknowledge all of the seniors in choir and my family was in the audience. That was a fun culmination of my involvement in the group. That year we had gone on tour to Arizona and Nevada and developed as a cohesive musical unit. As much as I learned and advanced by studying piano, choir was and is my favorite way to make music.
Did you intern while at Whittier College? Where, and what was that experience like? I interned with Roland Corporation U.S. Roland is a manufacturer and wholesaler of electronic musical products, and, at the time, was the largest such company in the world. I interned in the home piano division. I went in for a meet-and-greet and was told by the head of HR, "We don't have an internship program. We've never had an intern." A week later they called and said "Can you start next week?" Later I was told "Professor Cook was so enthusiastic about you, we decided to give you a try." The experience was very interesting. Roland is a corporation, and at first the contrast between Roland and the work environment I was used to at the QC was stark enough to induce whiplash. Each month, the department had a sales forecast to meet and any number of product development and marketing projects that needed anything from a clever idea to spare hands to stuff envelopes. I did anything I was asked to do.
I started my internship the summer before my senior year and continued through the fall semester. Roland's largest event is in January, so I worked full-time hours as an independent study in January. I shifted my schedule my last semester so that I worked three days each week at Roland, and that led to them offering me a position in April of 2006, a month before I graduated.
What was your first job after Whittier? What are you currently up to? How has your Whittier education benefited you professionally? I worked for Roland until 2008. I did a ton of traveling for product trainings and trade shows in addition to the marketing and sales projects I worked on at the office. Roland was a good experience—I met musicians and got an insider's view in a way that I probably never will again—but by the time I left, I had learned what I liked and didn't like in a work environment.
Since then I've been in public relations for private schools. I enjoyed a termed position at Caltech, then went to Polytechnic School, a private K-12 school in Pasadena. Presently I am the director of communications at Chandler School, a private K-8 school in Pasadena. I also teach piano in my spare time. I have 14 private students I see each week. It's a fun way to keep music as a prominent part of my life and impart some of the wisdom I gained while at Whittier.
My Whittier education has been a huge benefit. My skill set has been so prominently informed both by the emphasis on writing throughout the breadth of coursework and by the abundant opportunities for involvement at Whittier. I am viewed as an arbiter of grammar at work, someone who can be counted on to find a concise and effective way to communicate virtually anything.
What advice would you give to future music alumni when they graduate? The dedication it takes to lock yourself in a practice room and sing or play for hours on end will suit you well in the world. After graduation, the practice room might become a daunting project or a high-pressure work environment or all the logistics that come with starting your own business. But the same patience and discipline that were needed to stick with a piece of music when it was kicking your butt is the same patience and discipline needed to create a sustainable life for yourself, especially in the first few years out of college.
-Are you a graduate of the Department of Music and want to share your story? Contact the Office of Communications at email@example.com.