Most people are probably familiar with the concept of “paying it forward,” performing random acts of kindness to help others.
Many of the good Samaritans who operate under this philosophy believe that if you do something to help someone in need, then maybe someone will do the same for you.
It’s a nice gesture, but most of the examples we’ve heard about — paying the check for someone behind you in line at a restaurant drive-through, for example — pale in comparison to an act of kindness performed by Clarence Wood.
Wood, known as “Woody” to his friends, was approached last summer by a fellow musician who had a young student in tow and a special request. Ten-year-old Abby Geiseke wanted to learn to play the flute, but because she was born without a left hand, any instrument she played would need alterations.
Wood has worked on thousands of musical instruments, but he wasn’t sure about this request. The 88-year-old repair technician had never seen it done.
But he decided to try and help, even though he knew altering a flute for Abby, who could only operate two keys with the end of her left arm, would take some work.
Wood started by designing a stand that could hold the flute and slowly worked through the challenge. The entire project took most of the summer. Wood was two weeks into the school year before he finally finished the flute and a custom fingering chart.
The only thing that was changed, besides the fingerings on all but four notes, was the range. A typical flute can play about a 36-note range. The alterations cost Abby’s flute the four highest notes, but typical middle school or high school students don’t play them anyway, Wood said.
Ann Macmillan, who leads the music repair shop at the University of North Texas, told us she’s made some alterations on woodwind instruments over the years, but nothing on the scale that Wood has done.
Altering instruments isn’t new, according to David Nabb, a UNT graduate who teaches saxophone at the University of Nebraska Kearney. Someone altered a flute for a member of Napoleon’s army after cannon fire cost that soldier both a leg and an arm, and a well-known professional flutist in Hungary plays with a flute altered for her by a music repairman.
But the alterations take hundreds of hours to make and, as a result, can be prohibitively expensive. Wood did the work for Abby for free.
Wood still repairs instruments in his shop on Bolivar Street, and his daughter, Christie Wood, told us that since word got out about Abby’s flute, they’ve heard from people with many different kinds of disabilities from all over the country.
Woody Wood says he’ll never adapt another flute, but he doesn’t want to own the plans, either. Christie Wood put her dad’s schematics for the flute up on her website to make it easy for all the people who want to know more.
It might be going overboard to call Woody Wood a hero, but he’s certainly earned a place in the heart of one young lady, and there may be many others who eventually benefit from his hard work and creativity.
Thanks to his kindness, a 10-year-old can play the instrument she wants to play and experience many benefits that she might have missed out on otherwise.
We like the sound of that.