Chuck Wood, Emeritus in Excelsis

For most people, retirement means slowing down, relaxing, taking it easy. But band director/composer/musician Chuck Wood just can’t seem to stop taking on new projects.

Wood – who earned a Master’s in performance and conducting from Columbia, and a Ph.D., in music education from UCLA – initially spent a quarter-century in Bakersfield, where he was director of bands at Bakersfield College and principal trumpet with the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra.

After moving to Santa Barbara in the mid-1980s, he devoted the next 18 years to Santa Barbara City College, serving as director of bands and jazz studies for 15 years, and chairman of the music department for three. He brought the community college’s three jazz bands into prominence, often booking such luminaries as Clark Terry to teach masterclasses and perform in the Legends of Jazz series. On the side, he played with the Jazz Society and was a guest performer at UCSB.

With all that he was doing, it still wasn’t enough. About a decade ago, he attended some choral concerts put on by Montecito Union School, where his wife, Joanne, serves as school secretary.

“One night I remarked, ‘It’s a shame they don’t have a band,’” Wood recalls. “And my wife said, ‘Why don’t you start one?’”

So he did.

“MUS had an outstanding choral program, but didn’t have anything for instruments,” Wood goes on. “We literally had to start from scratch, and do everything outside of regular school hours.”

Wood left Montecito Union last summer, three years after “retiring” from the City College, where as emeritus professor of music he still teaches jazz history classes and a jazz improvisation course three days a week.

“I didn’t want to leave MUS, but I really wanted to focus more on composing, which I hadn’t done much of since Bakersfield,” says Wood. “That was the impetus for retiring in 2003. It was like starting a whole new career, which was wonderful, but something had to give.”

At first, Wood wrote several works for wind band, including “Variations on a Theme of Aaron Copland” and “St. Marie Variations,” in 2005, and “In His Honor” and “The Fifth of November – the Gunpowder Plot,” both last year. It was this last piece that brought Wood to his new composition, a setting of the English liturgical anthem “Te Deum Laudamus” for chorus, orchestra and organ.

“November was commissioned by the National Science Foundation – they were looking for a piece with elements in it,” says Wood. “It tells the story of Guy Fawkes and how he tried to blow up King James [I] and British Parliament in 1605. I had to research music from the period, and that got me fascinated with music that was performed at coronations.”

One thing led to another, and Wood came across Sir William Walton’s version of “Te Deum Laudamus,” which was played at the most recent Queen Elizabeth’s coronation.

“He had also written pieces for band, so I figured I’d reverse it and give Te Deum my old college try,” he says.

Wood, who says he was familiar with organ and chorus music from his own work in a church choir, began composing the work – which has also been set to music by Handel, Haydn and Mozart – last August.

“Originally I thought it would only be nine minutes long, but it kept growing,” Wood explains. “I put in a number of orchestral interludes, including some unique twists. It’s scored for what’s called a double chorus – they actually do function independently of each other. And there’s also a small group of solo singers, which we call a mini chorus, so there are three different vocal textures.”

The City College’s full 75-piece orchestra, led by James Mooy, will join the 120-voice chorus, under the direction of Nathan Kruetzer, at the work’s premiere this weekend at First United Methodist Church on East Anapamu Street (7 pm Saturday, 3 pm Sunday) in the school’s spring concert that also features a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Dona nobis pacem.” But Wood himself will conduct his “Te Deum.”

“It’s a unique joy waving your baton and hearing music coming back at you that you wrote,” he says. “I can’t wait.”