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Guitar hero

Alex Komodore is big in the guitar world and he’s bringing that world to MSU Denver in 2016.

March 12, 2015

Associate Professor Alex Komodore was instrumental (no pun intended) in MSU Denver winning the bid to host the Guitar Foundation of America’s International Convention and Competition in 2016. PHOTO: Courtesy of Alex Komodore
Associate Professor Alex Komodore was instrumental (no pun intended) in MSU Denver winning the bid to host the Guitar Foundation of America’s International Convention and Competition in 2016. PHOTO: Courtesy of Alex Komodore

If there’s any doubt that Alex Komodore was destined to enter the arts, consider the circumstances into which the associate professor of music and coordinator of Guitar Studies at MSU Denver was born: Komodore grew up in New York City’s lower Manhattan during the 1960s. His father, Bill, made a name for himself as part of the Op art movement studying with Mark Rothko and other greats. His mother, Marianne, studied modern dance at night with a student of Martha Graham.

Most artists would kill for such a pedigree.

Even the way he acquired his first guitar at age 6 seemingly sealed his fate of becoming a virtuoso guitarist. “A guitar just appeared in the corner of the room in our little apartment one day. My mom said she’d found it in the street,” said Komodore, who started guitar lessons when he was 8 years old and “got serious” about the instrument at the ripe old age of 10.

“I made it my mission to learn all the different styles of guitar,” he said. “I saved money from fixing flat bike tires and bought a bunch of guitars. When I was a teenager, I played on the Staten Island ferry as an acoustic guitarist.”

Despite growing up just two blocks from the iconic Fillmore East where all the great rock bands played — the Allman Brothers, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead to name just a handful — Komodore’s musical tastes took a different direction. “The classical guitar was something I had heard growing up because my dad listened to it while he painted,” he said. “I got attached to that sound. I listened to it and thought ‘How does anyone do that? That can’t be one guitar.’ And from there, a crazy man was born.”

“Crazy man” Komodore went on to major in music at New York University soaking up as much of the scene as he could. “All I did was go to concerts and play the guitar. I was obsessed with learning how to play music. I still am today,” he said.

Perhaps the only thing that rivals his passion for music is his love of education. A teaching assistant position at the University of Denver essentially paid for his master’s degree and brought Komodore to Colorado. In 1985, the same year he started teaching at MSU Denver, Komodore won the Music Teachers National Association competition in guitar. “When that happened, my career took off in terms of becoming a nationally-recognized performer,” he said of his subsequent appearances on NPR and PBS.

The years have been marked by numerous recordings, musical collaborations, rave reviews and more awards, but what makes Komodore proudest is when he inspires the next generation of musicians.

“Former students’ success stories are the best thing you can hear. It’s like the first time your kid says, ‘Dad, I got a job,’” he said. “It’s an irreplaceable feeling when that happens.”

Komodore anticipates many student musicians will find inspiration when MSU Denver hosts the Guitar Foundation of America’s International Convention and Competition in 2016, an event that will bring hundreds of musicians from around the world to campus to compete and perform. “This is going to be a tremendous success for the University and for the community,” said Komodore, who was instrumental — no pun intended — in MSU Denver winning the bid to host the convention. “The event will bring worldwide visibility to the University. It’ll be a great recruiting tool and a wonderful resource for former and current music students.”

Speaking of music students, one of the things Komodore impresses upon them is that they’re attempting to enter a difficult line of work. “It’s kind of like the love a mother has for a child — it’s not always pleasant. It’s not always easy. But it’s not something that goes away,” he said. “Do what you love and do it well because no one can take that away from you.”