Judith Cloud, mezzo-soprano and composer
American composer Judith Cloud’s gift for vocal writing originates out of her own rich experiences as an accomplished mezzo–soprano soloist. Performing throughout the United States, Cloud premiered many new works by young composers as well as her own music. Highlights of her performing career include a performance of the Brahms Neueliebeslieder Waltzer with the acclaimed radio program Saint Paul Sunday Morning. She was also mezzo-soprano soloist in Michael Tippett's A Child of Our Time for the American premier performance with the Winston-Salem Symphony. She has remained active as a recitalist and soloist, collaborating with others in chamber music recitals.
Cloud first began composing for the voice in 1974, and she soon garnered a reputation as a “singer-friendly” composer. Her vocal music has been described as “eminently singable, displaying a rich harmonic palate with an audience-entrancing sense of vocal line that is both dramatic and beautiful.”
Cloud’s experience as a vocal pedagogue for nearly 40 years led her to contribute to the beginning singer repertoire by composing accessible songs with a 21st-century bent. 24 Italian Songs and Arias for 21st-Century Singers can now be used by voice teachers as a welcome departure from the old standards.
Cloud’s monodrama Beethoven’s Slippers for dramatic soprano and piano quartet, set to a libretto by Santa Fe artist and writer Douglas Atwill, received its first performance in Flagstaff, AZ. Soprano Jennifer Trost commissioned the work and sang the role of The Woman in a production featuring sketches by Atwill as a part of the set design. Trost has since presented Beethoven’s Slippers more than 15 times in the piano accompaniment version. Dramatic sopranos “of a certain age” are drawn to the piece because of its appealing subject matter with its “singer friendly” demands on the aging voice.
In March of 2011 Summit Records released a CD of Cloud’s art songs. “Letting Escape A Song”, features Cloud singing some of her own music. Songs included on the CD are Quatre mélodies de Ronsard, dedicated to Carol Kimball, Four Songs of the Heart (Kathleen Raine), De Amor Oscuro (Francisco X. Alarcón), Three Songs from “Gleanings “(Betty Andrews), Três Canções (contemporary Brazilian poets), Four Sonnets by Pablo Neruda (Set 2), in the English translation by Stephen Tapscott, and Songs of Need and Desire, three songs for soprano and guitar.
Other art song collections include A Night at the Opera (tenor or soprano), four songs set to poems from Atwill’s first collection on the themes “Art, Artists, Love, Lust, Sex, Death, Family, Santa Fe & the Garden”; Five Edgar Allan Poe Songs (bass); I Spill My Soul (soprano), three songs to poems by E.E. Cummings; Four Sonnets by Pablo Neruda (Set 1 & 2, soprano or mezzo-soprano), set to the English translation by Stephen Tapscott; Black Day, Bright day (contralto) set to poems of Louise Labé and Cowboy Dreams (tenor or baritone), three arrangements of songs from the Western frontier. Cloud has also set the poetry of Winston-Salem, N.C. award-winning poet Janet Joyner. Her song set Botany for the Gods, composed for soprano Christine Graham, frequently appears on recital programs and in art song festivals throughout the US.
As a composer of choral music, her most performed work is a cantata, Feet of Jesus (Langston Hughes), for soprano and baritone soloists, soprano saxophone, chorus and organ. It was recorded in Stockholm on the BIS Northern Lights label by the St. Jacobs Kammarkör directed by Gary Graden and features Swedish saxophonist Anders Paulsson, Marymal Holmes, soprano and John Williams, bass-baritone.
Cloud is the recipient of a first-place prize in the prestigious Sorel Medallion Competition for her work Anacreontics for chorus and guitar, with a performance in Zankel Hall-Carnegie. Prior to that, Mesa Songs, for SATB divisi with Native American flute received the 3rd place Sorel Medallion. Mesa Songs has been programmed by prestigious ensembles such as the Phoenix Chorale, under the direction of Charles Bruffy, who presented the work with R. Carlos Nakai performing the Native American flute obbligato.
Cloud has composed instrumental chamber music and has compiled an impressive catalog of solo music for trumpet, flute, clarinet, violin, and cello with piano accompaniment, in addition to works for woodwind and brass quintets. Her largest chamber work is The Dancing Lady of Coal Canyon, for narrator, flute, oboe, alto saxophone, percussion, timpani, harp, piano, viola and cello. The piece is about the legend of a young Hopi woman who fell to her death while reaching out to spirits and is one of several that shows the influence of the Southwest, particularly its Native America culture, on Cloud’s creativity as a composer.
Peter Wright, principal clarinet with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, celebrated his 40th year with the ensemble by commissioning Cloud to compose HiJinx! for the 2014-15 season. A humorous audience pleaser, the work is orchestrated for solo clarinet, three percussionists, strings and piano and is organized around quotations from well-known clarinet solos and other “catchy” tunes such as “Singing in the Rain,” “Clang, Clang, Clang, Went the Trolley”, “We’re in the Money” and Bernard Hermann’s “Pscycho slasher music”.
Cloud received vocal performance degrees from the North Carolina School of the Arts and Florida State University where she studied with acclaimed soprano Janice Harsanyi. Her first composition lessons were with Robert Ward, who advised her to keep singing—but to keep writing music, too. She taught at Florida Community College at Jacksonville and Indiana State University before moving to Flagstaff in 1989 where she joined the music faculty at Northern Arizona University as a voice teacher. She inspired students with her teaching as well as her compositional talents and was awarded “Teacher of the Year” for the College of Fine Arts in 2004. The honorary title of Professor Emerita was bestowed upon Cloud’s retirement in 2020.
The Composer is a member in good standing with ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.)
Publication: Journal of Singing
Author: Berg, Gregory
Date published: November 1, 2011
“ it is no small feat for a particular performer to make a deep and lasting impression, and to do so time and time again is especially noteworthy. Composer and singer Judith Cloud has accomplished such a feat on the strength of her beautifully crafted compositions and her accomplished singing of them. Whenever she takes the stage, one senses an uncommon, hushed attentiveness in the room, as though everyone gathered expects to experience something remarkable . . . and they always do.” Gregory Berg, Journal of Singing