When Ellen Woodard was a sophomore in high school she asked her mother if she would be disappointed if Ellen decided to study music instead of nursing. “I still remember that day, very clearly,” Woodard recalls. As a parent who wished only the best for her child, her mother had said that she would support her in whatever she chose to do.

An increasing love of music led Woodard to earn her master’s degree in music performance from U-M. She studied the French horn, but she continues to play handbells the most today. Given that Woodard chose to study music, her mother finds it ironic that she ended up working in the medical field anyway.

Woodard currently works as an applications programmer/analyst for the Nephrology Division in Internal Medicine, working with the Nephrotic Syndrome Study Network, also known as NEPTUNE. The study recruits patients who have received an initial diagnosis of nephrotic syndrome with a clinical indication for a kidney biopsy. These patients are then observed throughout their treatment, with the study focusing on three rare diagnoses and watching how the diseases progress. 

The research is conducted with the ultimate hope of creating better treatments and possibly finding a cure. “We’re really just observing and gathering data,” Woodard says.  Working essentially as a data manager for NEPTUNE, Woodard is responsible for the data that comes in and goes out throughout the study, as well as training research coordinators in the use of software used to capture data. 

Ellen Woodard received her master’s degree in music performance and plays with the Detroit Handbell Ensemble. (Photo by Janet Hall)

Although she’s found a home in the medical field, Woodard refuses to give up on her dream. “I believe I was born to make music,” she says. Woodard has been playing with the Detroit Handbell Ensemble for 13 seasons, and is a freelance handbell soloist. She also teaches children to ring through the Hearts, Hands, and Voices worship and fine arts program. The program works to make music available to every child, regardless of denomination or economic status.   

Woodard has also served as a director of the handbell choirs at her church.  “Directing is another passion that I’ve found. I not only enjoy making music, but I love helping others make that music.”

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Music has always run in the family for Woodard, and she hopes it will continue. “I learned to ring in my church when I was a teenager. My whole family has rung at one time or another,” she says. “My mother just turned 83 and this is her first year not ringing.”

Woodard’s family is important to her, and she finds inspiration through them, including her newly born granddaughter. Her computer desktop displays a photograph of her grandniece with the baby. She can’t wait to pass her musical skills along to them soon.

“I have my bells all laid out at home because I’m doing some playing for the Christmas season, so they’ll be hearing some. Maybe even doing some,” she says.