Pine Spring 2010: Excerpts from Interview with Judith Cloud

Pine: As they say in New York, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" and the answer is "Practice, practice, practice." But how does Judith Cloud get to Carnegie Hall?

Judith Cloud: I found out about this competition that the Sorel organization sponsors two years ago. I applied for it and was selected out of over 100 applicants, women composers from all over the world.

I've had such a great experience, getting to go to New York twice, and spend a week right there. They put you up at the Wellington Hotel -- it's a wonderful location -- you have time to go to museums and concerts, and really live like a New Yorker for a week. And getting to listen to the rehearsals of these professional musicians and see how quickly they assimilate what you ask for, that was also a wonderful part of the whole experience.

[In '08] I did win third prize, and I was very happy to be there at all, but I have to say I was a little disappointed that I didn't win any better than third because the other two contestants were 29. [Laughs] As an older woman I felt, "I kind of hope my music is at a different level." The other two ladies were very talented and gifted composers, and they certainly deserved to win the prizes. The interesting thing is that the people in the audience shared with me that they liked my piece the best -- and then the conductor pulled me aside and said, "I encourage you to enter this again next year." They gave me confidence to try again, and I actually had a piece that I was working on at the time that was brand new, and I thought it might be perfect for this group. So I did enter, and once again I made it to the final group and the final three. In the back of my mind I was thinking, "I'm so blessed. If I win third prize again I'll be just thrilled."

So I'm standing on stage, and it's a little bit like the Miss America pageant, because the judges deliberate during intermission, and all the contestants are brought out, and you're waiting there, wondering who won. As I said, I was very happy with whatever was going to happen. When they announced the name of the third place winner and it wasn't me, I thought, "Oh! I did better than third this time!" And they announced the name of the second place [winner], and it almost didn't sink in that I'd actually won. It's a feeling I've never experienced before in my life -- I've never won first at anything. And there really is something to that, I have to admit.

Pine: What sort of message do you think an honor like this sends to your students and the NAU community?

JC: You know, I might have to back up a bit and say that actually, it sent quite a strong message last year when I won third. I have students who are competing all the time in voice against other singers and other musicians, and what Sorel really brought home to me is that taste varies. Sometimes it's just the luck of the draw. I wanted to pass that feeling of humility on to my students -- that if you don't win first, if you don't get as high a grade or honor as you think you deserve, it doesn't mean that you haven't done good work. It just means it's not your time. And you keep going on, you persevere, and you have faith in your work, and you have the discipline to continue, and you ask yourself questions -- what can I do to make this better, so that maybe a more universal audience will say "yes, this is definitely worthy of first place, without question."

Pine: You must have gotten some nice pats on the back from NAU colleagues.

JC: It really has been wonderful to get the recognition. People really do perk up when they hear "Carnegie Hall" -- they recognize that it's a pretty major venue. The Sorel Foundation is an important organization; the competition is young -- it was the second year they've done it, and I think they'll continue to get more and more exposure. It's important because Sorel is singling out women composers, conductors, educators, and scholars, and it's often hard to get that recognition when you're competing against men as well. This forum makes it just a little easier, and puts the women a little more into the spotlight, which I think is necessary.

Pine: Tell us about the inspiration of the piece.

JC: I can tell you I would probably never have written a piece for chorus and guitar, because I thought that the chorus would be too loud and you wouldn't hear the guitar at all. Anacreontics was actually a commission. Ken Meyer, the guitarist who played the performance in Carnegie Hall, teaches at the Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS). (Listening to the actual performance, I'm almost positive the reason I won first prize is because Ken is such a fantastic guitarist.) A colleague there commissions a piece every year, and Ken, who had previously played a piece of mine for guitar and voice, urged HWS to commission me to write a new piece.

Then I thought, "What in the world am I going to pick for a text?" So I went on a major hunt, and I found a wonderful body of literature that had actual references to strings and to the lute, which is the closest [antique instrument] to the guitar. I also particularly liked the idea of going back and researching antiquity for a text that would showcase first the guitar alone, and then add comments by the chorus, so that that the piece demonstrates a kind of reciprocal relationship between the two parts.

Pine: And that's what makes it so unusual.

JC: Exactly. It turned out to be just a wonderful project...and I have to tell you that I'm more excited about the guitar than I've been in years, and so I'm going to continue to write for that instrument.

Shortly after our interview, Judith was invited to be Artist in Residence for the Big Bear Lake Song Festival in California, June 2010. She says, "I'm very psyched as this is a great opportunity for me as a composer working with singers!"

Anacreontics (click to listen)

I. Love

I'LL sing of Heroes, and of Kings;
In mighty Numbers, mighty things,
Begin, my Muse; but lo, the strings
To my great Song rebellious prove;
The strings will sound of nought but Love.
I broke them all, and put on new;
'Tis this or nothing sure will do.
These sure (said I) will me obey;
These sure Heroic Notes will play.
Straight I began with thundering Jove,
And all th' immortal Powers, but Love.
Love smil'd, and from my enfeebled Lyre
Came gentle airs, such as inspire
Melting love, soft desire.
Farewell then Heroes, farewell Kings,
And mighty Numbers, mighty Things;
Love tunes my Heart just to my strings.

~ Abraham Cowley (1618-1667)

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