Dr. Charles West was “blown away” when he received the VCU School of the Arts Award of Excellence in 2011. “That was really unexpected,” he said. “It’s the highest faculty honor the School gives out and to be among that elite crowd of folks who have received the award over the years — it really makes me want to go out and work hard to deserve the honor.”
While West may not yet be convinced that he is already deserving of the honor, his colleagues and former students have no doubts. In recognizing West for the award, low brass professor Dr. Ross Walter wrote that the department “has benefitted from Dr. West’s exemplary work as a scholar and teacher, as well as from his service to the university, especially in the area of recruiting. His many recordings, performances, and clinics worldwide have inspired countless clarinetists and teachers. Even as a low brass teacher, I have been able to incorporate many of his ideas into my own teaching.”
Walter particularly resonated with West’s strong sense that attitude, intention, and purpose can greatly affect one’s performance. “He [West] feels that if you can play one of these instruments, you can do anything,” Walter said. “He believes that if you have an attitude of excellence in one area, it will translate to excellence in other areas. All that is required is the believe that you can do it.” This ideology is one that Walter has incorporated into both his teaching and personal life.
Rebecca Stewart Anderson (BME ’05), an elementary music teacher in Prince William County, Virginia, continues to benefit from her time as his student. “He is a wonderful musician and person, and I learned so much about musicality, technique, pedagogy, and life from him. Even still, we talk frequently as friends and as professionals. And even since graduating VCU, many opportunities have come my way because of him, and I am so grateful.”
For more than 26 years, West has been part of the VCU Music faculty where he heads the clarinet studio, has taught more than 17 music courses, and is the Coordinator of Winds, Brass, and Percussion. He is an active recruiter and consistently boasts a strong studio of 15-16 clarinet majors.
The experience that West brings to his teaching comes from a career that has spanned the globe — from his studies at the University of Northern Colorado and the University of Iowa; to his work as a Fulbright Scholar in Peru; guest professorships in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong; his role as principal clarinetist in six different professional orchestras and opera companies; and performances across five continents.
West is an orchestral, chamber, and solo clarinetist and his performances have been documented on an impressive number of recordings for such respected labels as Klavier, Wilson Audiophile, Centaur, CRI, Crystal, as well as a Grammy award-winning Telarc CD. West is particularly pleased with this area of his career: “The standard of recording is perfection and an hour-long CD is really the highlights from twelve hours of recording. You have to hold yourself to a higher standard that’s as close to perfection as possible. It’s really been rewarding.”
Any of these accomplishments would seem to be high honors, but West was especially touched when he was asked to perform at his former teacher’s memorial service last summer. “My teacher was Himie Voxman and everyone in wind and percussion teaching has known him forever. I was asked to be the soloist at his memorial by the department chair at the University of Iowa. I played for eleven minutes — to be asked to play at your own teacher’s memorial out of all his students throughout his career was quite an honor.”
True to form, the hard-working West also plays hard. He enjoys being out at Lake Anna on his jet ski, woodworking in his garage (“I’d own more saws and things if I weren’t afraid of losing a finger”), cooking gourmet meals, and has been a self-declared “gym rat” since he was 22. (“If I have a student who’s having trouble sustaining a note or getting enough air, they know I’m going to ask if they’re going to the gym or getting aerobic exercise. It’s absolutely critical for a performer.”) West is also devoted to his family, caring for his 93-year-old mother and spending as much time as he can with his wife, Mary Jo, who lives in Fairfax.