Art Song on Route 66

Article excerpt

FLAGSTAFF IS A CITY IN NORTHERN Arizona, elevation 7,000 feet, population just a tad over 60,000. It is a community of cultural diversity, beauty, and history. Nearby, Grand Canyon National Park and Oak Creek Canyon lure tourists with their spectacular landscapes-vistas of red rock, mountains, and majestic pine trees. Flagstaff is a stop on historic Route 66, once the premier highway to the west coast.

Flagstaff is also the home of composer Judith Cloud, whose vocal works are enjoying increasing recognition. Her songs are expressive and beautifully crafted for the voice, and they continue to attract singers who happily program and perform them.

Cloud began composing in 1974. Her affinity for setting texts to music is born of her own extensive experiences as an accomplished mezzo soprano soloist. Her first composition lessons were with Robert Ward, who advised her to keep singing-but to keep writing music, too. She has done both.

Cloud is a professor of voice in the School of Music at Northern Arizona University. She is currently Coordinator of Voice at NAU, combining a full teaching schedule (studio voice and voice pedagogy), administrative duties, and her own vocal performances in recitals and concerts in local and regional venues. In between, she finds time to compose.

Melodic lines in Cloud's songs are intelligently shaped for the voice and are always closely linked to the text. "As a composer of art songs I am particularly inspired by the architecture of a poem, the sounds and meaning of a word, its rhythmic power."1 Additionally, the role of the piano in her songs reflects the song texts and the shifting images within them.

Cloud's passion for poetry has inspired many song sets and cycles. Her choice of texts is eclectic, and the resulting musical works are a diverse mixture of poets and styles, from Pablo Neruda to Pierre Ronsard, and from Margaret Atwood to E. E. Cummings. Contemporary Spanish and Brazilian poets also are represented in her song settings.

She also has composed a variety of choral pieces; commissions from the British women's ensemble Psallite, and the Santa Fe Desert Chorale attest to her growing reputation. In October 2009, Cloud won first place in the prestigious Sorel Medallion Competition with her work Anacreontics for chorus and guitar, with a performance in Zankel Hall-Carnegie.

Cloud's works list contains works in a wide range of other genres, including a concerto for soprano saxophone and orchestra; the woodwind quintet Six Stories by Italian Children; a work for soprano saxophone, trumpet, and horn entitled Variations on an Old Negro Spiritual; and Three Impressions of Northern Arizona, for flute and piano. One of her most successful pieces is a cantata, Feet Of Jesus, set to poetry of Langston Hughes, which was recorded on the BIS Northern Lights label in 1997, and is widely performed each year in the United States and internationally.

Cloud has written several vocal works for her faculty colleagues at NAU, soprano Deborah Raymond and tenor Ricardo Pereira. Soprano Eileen Strempel (Syracuse University) and pianist Sylvie Beaudette (Eastman School of Music) are also fans of Cloud's music; the Strempel-Beaudette duo has commissioned three cycles from the composer. Strempel describes Cloud's work as "eminently singable, displaying a rich harmonic palette with an audience-entrancing sense of vocal line that is both dramatic and beautiful."2

A PARTIAL LIST OF VOCAL WORKS BY JUDITH CLOUD:3

* Night Dreams-soprano, 2006 *

- commissioned by Eileen Strempel and Sylvie Beaudette

- poetry by Margaret Atwood

* Quatre mélodies de Ronsard-baritone or mezzo soprano, 2008 *

- composed in honor of Carol Kimball

- poetry by Pierre de Ronsard

* Songs of Need and Desire-soprano or tenor, guitar, 2007

- poetry by Kathleen Raine, Elizabeth Bishop, Perry Brass

* De Amor Oscuro-tenor or soprano, 2004

- poetry by Francisco X. …

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