For sophomore Alexander Gumkowski, music has always served as a creative outlet in his life. Since before he can remember, Alex has spent countless hours in front of a piano, constantly practicing to improve his skills. A testament to his persistence, Alex has worked with the same teacher for around 10 years, regularly driving a total of an hour and a half to and from her house. “She’s an excellent teacher,” he said. “She gave me a really good introduction to classical music, and I was able to take that and get pretty advanced.”
As he enters his second year at KO, Alex reflected on how the school has helped him hone his craft. “Last year in Rock Band, [creative arts teacher] Mr. [David] Zucker introduced me to jazz,” he explained. “I got interested in it and started learning more about it.” Alex particularly enjoys jazz, as it allows him more freedom in playing the instrument. “With jazz, there’s room for improvisation, and you’re able to be more creative in your playing,” he said. “Instead of having all the notes on one page, you get a scale and you can make something really good that nobody’s ever heard before.”
Although he puts a lot of time and effort into the instrument, playing piano has never been a source of stress. “Playing really relaxes me,” Alex said. Additionally, Alex has greatly enjoyed participating in Jazz Band, led by creative arts teacher Todd Millen. “I feel like KO has really given me a good introduction to different types of music, and a way to share my talents,” he said.
In the spring of his freshman year, Alex, along with fellow freshman Dorian Ciscel, was awarded the Spinella Prize. Named after Joseph Spinella ’97, it recognizes determined and passionate students at KO seeking to improve their musical skills. “I was able to attend the Litchfield Jazz Camp, where I played with some really good musicians,” he said. “It was an intense week of playing and learning all the theory behind jazz. I’m so glad that I got that opportunity from KO.”
When he’s not in front of the keys in Alumni Hall or practicing with his teacher, Alex enjoys connecting with nature. “I’m a big fisherman, I love hiking, and I run on the cross country team,” he mentioned. This year, Alex created the KO Outdoors Club, which encourages students to take a break from their phones in order to engage with the world around them. The club will include fishing, hiking, and camping, along with spending time simply enjoying nature.
Alex also discussed his thoughts on his future musical pursuits. “In the future, I actually want to start teaching lessons,” he said. “I’d like to take on a few young students who are interested in learning piano. I think it would be really nice to pass down the knowledge that I gained from my own teacher.”
Finally, Alex shared some of his own sentiments about learning to play an instrument.
“It’s sad when people quit after spending a lot of time getting to where they are,” he said. “I think music is really important, and I suggest that anybody who wants to learn how to play an instrument should absolutely try it.” He certainly doesn’t regret a minute he spent playing piano. “It was very much worth it,” he said. “I get a lot of joy out of playing now.”