When 10-year-old Abby Gieseke, who was born without a fully developed left hand, was determined to play the flute, there was no one better to help her than Clarence "Woody" Wood. Wood — who played clarinet in UNT's first lab band from 1946 to 1949 — is not your average instrument repairman. He reconfigured the keys on the flute so it can be played with the right hand only and built a stand to support it. Now, not only has Abby's dream come true, but Wood shared the schematics online for others after requests poured in.
"I didn't think I could do it," he says of the complex alterations. "But I thought I'd give it a try."
He focused on creating a right-handed fingering system he thought would work, but once it was complete, it was far too complicated. Wood then simplified his design, which included reversing keys on the top half of the flute and developing a riser to rest the thumb. When his masterpiece was ready to be tested, his daughter Christie Wood ('78), who is a flutist, reviewed the mechanisms to make sure the flute would work.
"I found that it could play all notes except the few on top," says Christie Wood.
After several months of drawing up designs for the flute and putting the pieces together, it was finally time for Wood to present the altered instrument, a custom fingering chart and a stand he had built from a piece of steel and a percussionist's top hat cymbal to Abby.
"We had a session shortly after to see how things were going and Abby could play all of two notes by then," Wood says. "She was really happy."
According to Abby's band director, she enrolled in private lessons and is now the lead flutist in her band program.
Learn more about the flute
This was not the first time Wood customized an instrument for someone with a disability. He has adjusted instruments for people with hand injuries several times before, but the Abby flute brought him under an international spotlight in the music community.
"A friend from Germany called me and said he saw me on the news," says Wood.
Wood found his passion for music at an early age when his father bought him a clarinet from a traveling music salesman in his hometown, Texas City. After serving in World War II, he came to North Texas on the GI Bill and performed in the first lab band, which was a fitting prelude to his career as a musician and instrument repairman. Wood fondly remembers weekends filled with performing for the Saturday Night Stage Shows, dances on the Slab behind the Union and football games during his college career.
"After performing in the pit orchestra, I'd run up on stage and get in 'Fessor Graham's group, and then we'd go out on the Slab and play for a dance," Wood says. "Every Saturday night I'd get $12, which helped me get through school."
UNT is a memorable place for Wood, who chased after the two loves of his life: music and his college sweetheart. Mary Ellen Standley Wood ('52) was still in high school when she visited UNT with the McKinney Jazz Band for a jazz festival.
"When I first saw her playing her tenor sax solo, my heart started beating faster and I thought, 'That's the girl for me,'" Wood says.
They started dating shortly after they met again in UNT's Concert Band. They married and started a legacy of UNT College of Music alums in their family. Their children Christie Wood, Candis Wood Hanson ('80) and the late Standley Wood all studied music at UNT and went on to pursue careers in music and art. Christie Wood opened her own stained glass studio in Denton and often creates pieces inspired by music. Wood's brother, John Wood ('51), also attended UNT — as a trombonist.
Today, Clarence and Mary Ellen are members of seven different ensembles in the Denton community, including a woodwind quartet, UNT's New Horizons Band, Gainesville Swing Orchestra, Denton Community Band and Denton Community Jazz Band. They often perform at retirement centers, assisted living centers and Alzheimer's centers.
"We're a team," says Wood, who has never regretted staying in the music field. "I've loved it the whole time."