The one thing Abby Gieseke wanted most from her fifth grade year at First Baptist Denton in Texas was to join the band and play the flute.
"My mom had played the flute and my friend is playing the flute too,” said Abby.
Fifth grade was finally her first chance to take up the instrument as well, but for Abby it would be a bit more of a challenge. Abby does not have a left hand.
"She was born without her left hand which is called Symbrachydactyly,” said her mom Julie Gieseke.
According to the American Journal of Medical Genetics it’s a rare disorder only affecting about 1 in every 30,000 to 40,000 births. It causes a child to be born small or completely missing bones or fingers in one hand, or, in Abby’s case, a completely missing hand.
It’s something Abby says is just a part of life for her and her mom says it’s never held her back.
"I find my own ways to do things other people can do,” said Abby.
However the flute posed a much bigger problem than most of the other activities Abby had worked through. After all you can’t even hold up a flute to play it without two hands.
"That's what was hard with this flute is we wondered if this was going to be the time where we were going to tell her, 'Abby, we don't know if you can do this,'" said Julie.
That’s something the Giesekes have always tried to avoid, so they searched far and wide trying to avoid it again by finding a way Abby could play the flute.
"We talked to a guy in Amsterdam, Switzerland, nobody knew how to do it,” said Julie.
The Giesekes were about to lose hope until a friend at the school brought up a local man named “Mr. Woody.”
Clarence Jefferson Wood Jr., or Woody as everyone calls him, is a long time Denton resident and life-long musician. He says he got his first Clarinet at age 9 and has been playing and repairing instruments nearly all of his life. He is now 88-years-old.
When the Giesekes brought their proposal to Wood, a one handed flute, he says it was one of the more challenging requests he’d heard.
"I've never done anything that expansive before, but I said I would give it a try,” said Woody.
So he set out to make the flute. Over 3 weeks he went through several versions, many of which were far too complicated for anyone, especially an 11 year-old, to operate.
Finally though, Woody had created a flute that he believed would work just for Abby.
He mounted the instrument on an old cymbal stand and completely reworked the tone holes and keys so they could be operated by Abby.
"It was complicated," said Woody with a laugh.
Abby’s band teacher admits she’s not even sure how to play the creation. It came with an all new set of fingerings Abby has to take-on, but only five days after getting the flute, Abby was already playing at the level of her fellow students.
"I can play the first five notes that everyone else has learned and I can play the first song,” said Abby proudly after practice.
Julie says she cried the first time she heard her daughter play a note with the new flute.
"It was amazing,” she said. “It was something that we wanted so much and Mr. Woody, and God, and our prayers, and all the prayers of our friends, it worked."
It was quite a triumph for Woody as well who had created something from scratch that he’d never taken on in his 88 years.
All he asked in return for the creation was to see Abby play it. So he sat front row with his wife at a Friday afternoon practice and smiled as Abby kept up with her classmates.
"It makes me cry when I see her play her instrument,” he said. “And I love to see her do something that's unusual."
Abby says it’s just one more thing she’s learning to do “her way,” and one she can actually take on thanks to the kindness and innovation of Mr. Woody.