Ever since he attended Ontario Mennonite Music Camp (OMMC) at age 12, Conrad Grebel University College student Joel Woods has entrenched himself within Grebel’s music community. While pursuing a degree in Mathematics at the University of Waterloo, Joel has ensured that music remains a focal point of his life. “I realized that almost all the electives I wanted to take were Music courses, so I decided to make it official and start pursuing a Music degree.” Now in his fifth year, Joel has completed his musical circle; he has co-lead for OMMC, the same camp that introduced him to the Grebel Music community. 

Music seems to follow Joel wherever he goes. “Whether I’m writing songs and strumming my guitar in my basement, playing music with friends, or singing hymns at Chapel or at church, music is something I just can’t get enough of.” Joel spoke explained how music can help express emotion and confront “both the beautiful and terrifying parts of the world.” He cherishes the times he was able to perform at Grebel Coffeehouses, where he expressed his own emotions while connecting with his surrounding community. “I love how music is both a medium for personal expression as well as a way of connecting with others,” Joel explained. “Musical traditions can connect us with people across centuries and continents, letting us glimpse into people’s experiences from places I would never be able to visit.”  

When regarding the many musical initiatives at Grebel, chances are that Joel has left his mark. He has been a member for both Grebel’s Chapel Choir and Chamber Choir, regularly volunteered to accompany the music in Chapel, and led worship at the Mennonite Economic Development Associates conference last fall. 

“It is not a stretch to say that my mom discovering Ontario Mennonite Music Camp completely changed the course of my life,” reflected Joel. “Some of my fondest memories came from OMMC. It’s what led me to live at Grebel in my first year, and it's something I’ve stayed connected to all throughout my five years of my undergrad degree.”  

Joel Woods

Joel finds joy in discovering and practicing different avenues of music. “Before studying music at Grebel, I’d never tried conducting before,” he remarked. “I took both of Mark Vuorinen’s conducting courses and absolutely loved them. I really enjoyed the experience of learning a completely new musical skill and have since gained a deep appreciation for conductors; it isn’t easy!” Joel also highlighted his Music 390 Orchestration and Arranging course, where he has been able to use his accumulated skills and knowledge and put them into practice. “I’m very excited for the end of the term, where one of the pieces I’ve written will be played live by the Orchestra @UWaterloo.”  

“Joining an ensemble as a Grebel student is a great way to start lifelong healthy practices of integrating social artistic expression into your life,” said Kate Steiner, Assistant Professor of Music and Director of the Church Music and Worship program at Grebel. “Grebel students have the unique opportunity to sing alongside people they eat and take classes with. That kind of immersion is something that many Grebel students continue to value and put into practice, wherever their careers might take them.” 

Through joining numerous clubs, Joel has connected with others sharing that same passion for music while also finding an outlet to express himself in an artistic fashion. For these reasons, Grebel is excited to congratulate Joel as the recipient of the Abner Martin Award, a scholarship awarded annually to a full-time student in a graduate or undergraduate music program who is also affiliated with a congregation in Mennonite Church Eastern Canada. This year’s awards come from the earnings of the scholarship endowment fund and a donation from the Jim and Lorna Blair Charitable Foundation. The next application deadline is October 15, 2024.  

More information about the Abner Martin Music Scholarship is available on the Menno Singers website.  

By Jiho Mercer