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Clarinet professor Dr. Charles West retires after 30 years at VCU

After 30 extraordinary years, beloved clarinet professor Dr. Charles “Chuck” West is retiring from VCU.

The tenured professor served as the VCU Department of Music’s Coordinator of Winds and Percussion for 28 years. West headed the clarinet studio, and has taught more than 17 music courses at VCU. He has been active recruiter, consistently retaining a strong studio of 15 to 16 clarinet majors. In 2011 West received the VCU School of the Arts Award of Excellence, which is the highest honor bestowed on a faculty member by the school.

VCU’s Festival of Winds, Brass and Percussion, which marked its 30th year in January, has thrived under his leadership. West has nourished the growth and success of the VCU Music Department over the years and influenced the lives of students and faculty in an enormous way.

“His impact on VCU Music and all of our lives has been immeasurable,” said Dr. Sandy Goldie, Assistant Professor of Music Education. “No one could ever take his place in our hearts and minds.”

To celebrate West’s retirement, students, alumni and faculty surprised him with a special recital on May 6. The recital featured soloists as well as a clarinet choir spanning several generations. Many traveled from across the country to perform that day. The recital was organized in secret by Dr. Antoine T. Clark, Rebecca Anderson and Mary Jo West, Dr. West’s wife.

In addition to helping organize the recital, Clark conducted the clarinet choir and acted as master of ceremonies. From the stage, he spoke of the profound influence that West had on his life.

“I’m a clarinetist, I’m a woodwinds specialist, I’m a conductor and sometimes composer because I wanted to be so much like that man sitting over there,” Clark said of West, addressing the audience. “For a little black kid from rural Virginia that had the opportunity to go the wrong way, he was someone that gave me an image to follow.”

Dr. West with the clarinet choir and other recital performers. Photo courtesy of Antoine T. Clark.

 

Several of Dr. West’s VCU colleagues spoke at the recital, recognizing him not only as an outstanding clarinetist and educator, but as a loyal and selfless friend.

Dr. Austin and Dr. West. Photo courtesy of Antoine T. Clark.

VCU’s Director of Bands and one of West’s closest colleagues, Dr. Terry Austin, shared many warm anecdotes of their friendship. He recalled how West stood by him during difficult times, notably during a period of prolonged illness when Austin was not keen on giving up conducting.

“Almost every rehearsal, I’d turn around at some point, and Chuck would be standing right there,” said Austin. “He’d say, ‘Do you need my help? Are you okay?’ Every day. That meant a lot.”

In addition to his career at VCU, West has enjoyed success as principal clarinetist in six professional orchestras and opera companies on two continents, and has held teaching positions and conducted ensembles all across the globe. West has also authored three books on woodwind pedagogy and served as president of the International Clarinet Association.

Even with all the accomplishments West has enjoyed beyond VCU, he regards this place as his home.

“I’ll try not to get choked up, but these are my friends here,” said West. “I knew that this time would come. It’s been 43 years of college teaching for me. I just wanted to retire while I still had enough health and life in me to go do something else.”

West is planning to stay busy in his retirement, continuing to conduct the Youth Orchestra of Central Virginia and serving as a clinician for Buffet Crampon and Hal Leonard, among others. He is also looking forward to traveling, carpentry, boating, gym workouts, cooking, and service activities both within and outside the music realm. “I’m pretty open to interesting things that come up,” West said.

Dr. West and Dr. Valvo enjoy coffee together at 3rd Street Diner. Photo courtesy of Dr. West. 

West’s retirement ushers in a new chapter for VCU’s clarinet studio. This fall, VCU Music will welcome Dr. Tiffany Valvo as assistant professor of clarinet. Valvo holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree and Master’s Degree in Performance and Literature from the Eastman School of Music, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Clarinet Performance from Florida State University. She has taught on the faculties at Eastman, Nazareth College in Rochester, and most recently Syracuse University.

“Dr. Valvo is clearly a people person, an elegant player, and very positive,” said West. “My hope is that she will build on the national reputation that we have established over three decades, and keep the image of VCU as a clarinet school in the national eye.”