The Herald Bulletin

March 27, 2010

Nancy Wood back in Anderson, with ASO

By Rodney Richey, Herald Bulletin Feature Writer

ANDERSON — Nancy Wood stared into the glass vase, full of clear water, with the bare roots of a plant dangling down into it.

Among the roots swam Wood’s new friend and colleague, a fantail betta.

“His name’s Scarlatti,” Wood said recently in her Meridian Street office. Last summer, Wood was named executive director of the Anderson Symphony Orchestra.

“He swims down into the roots, and he’s just happy as a clam.”

A visitor asks Wood and her assistant, RuthAnn Ginder, how they knew that to be true.

“He talks to us,” Wood said, peering into the vase at the fluttering fish.

Wood, comfy in a white sweater framed with long blonde hair, said she hadn’t been looking for a job, but the ASO gig couldn’t have come along at a better time.

A native of Vermont, she had been in the central Indiana area for years, first working for gospel legends Bill and Gloria Gaither. She had most recently been writing educational materials for Marion General Hospital. That job had come to an end after five years.

“For me, it wasn’t the most creative place to be,” Wood said recently.

Wood was planning a full-time return to her freelance writing career when the bottom fell out of the economy.

While working part-time as a teacher, she was contacted by a friend about an ad for a new executive director with the ASO as well as the Noblesville Symphony Orchestra.

“My friend had seen the ad online,” she said. “I read it and thought, ‘It couldn’t be more perfect,’ because music has always been my first love.”

Wood remains impressed that a city of Anderson’s size, with the economic hardship it has endured, sustains a symphony orchestra.

“And that’s not just a name,” she added. “It’s a great group of musicians.”

With degrees in music composition and vocal and instrumental performance from Western Michigan and Ball State universities, Wood, 55, has experienced a varied and colorful career, beginning as a promotions manager for Gaither Studios, filling her spare time as a freelance singer, producer, documentary writer and voice-over artist.

A job in publicity with Indiana Public Radio in Muncie led to positions with Indiana Wesleyan University and Anderson Community Schools.

Through it all, music remained her passion. And the ASO job was one she could not turn down.

“I like a position where I’m not a person in a big machine with one little job,” Wood said. “Also, I’d been away from my classical roots.”

The exposure to the arts she gets with the ASO also acts as therapy for Wood, who lives with a rare condition called intercranial hypertension. In one sense, it is like living with a brain tumor, with pressure on the brain, headaches, nausea and vomiting as well as tinnitus and even double vision.

Her pain is now managed, although she admits that “there are good days and bad days.” She has undergone several procedures, including drilling into her skull, spinal taps and the installation of a shunt in her spine, to regulate the pressure of spinal fluid.

The experience, however, inspired the devout Christian to construct an elaborate bead-and-stitching tapestry she titled “Revelation: From Pain to Purpose.”

(The title was taken from Revelation 21:4: “And God shall wipe away all tears ... and there shall be no more death ... neither shall there be any more pain. ...”)

Wood lives with two Persian cats, Breckin and Tess. An older Persian, Madison, died last year at 14. In 1996, Wood dealt with a double blow: the breakup of her engagement and then the sudden death of her mother, Priscilla, a musician, artist and gardener who died of heat stroke at her Florida home. (Her father, George, lives in Indianapolis.)

So the vagaries of the U.S. economy hold no special power to disturb or upset Nancy Wood, whose predecessor, George W. Vinson, warned her: “Don’t expect this job to be 8-to-5, because it never is.”

“I knew that it would be an uphill battle, but I like an uphill climb,” Wood said. “I like it when somebody says something can’t be done.”

Movement in the vase distracted Nancy Wood, and she glanced back at Scarlatti, drifting and flitting through the water.

“He’s funny with me when I come in in the morning,” she said. “Isn’t he gorgeous?”

Contact Rodney Richey, 640-4861, rodney.richey@heraldbulletin.com.