The Pursuit of Passion

She is a dedicated teacher, an accomplished mezzo-soprano soloist, and an award-winning composer, but Northern Arizona University professor Judith Cloud is also proud of another role she plays—that of mentor to her students. For Cloud, mentorship means demonstrating the importance of perseverance and dedication to one’s craft through her own professional experience. A life in music isn't easy, she says, but passion pays off.

"You do it because you love it and somebody will recognize that," says Cloud. "It can take many years of hard work to achieve rewards and recognition." Cloud knows this from experience. She is a prolific composer and the 2009 recipient of the Sorel Medallion in Choral Composition, which was awarded at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Her work, entitled Anacreontics, took first place over more than a hundred submissions from female composers all over the world.

The first-place prize was the result of not only Cloud's talent, but her perseverance. It was the second year that her submission earned recognition in the top three. "You talk about being a mentor to your students—the year I won third, I brought back so much understanding for them in terms of when you don't win," she says. "I said to them, 'If you're good, you just keep at it.'" When Cloud came back the following year with first place, she said, ”See? I told you!”

Teaching and performing


Cloud joined the university's music department in 1989. When she drove north from Phoenix during her first visit to campus, “my eyes just got bigger and bigger—I had no idea that Arizona had green forests and mountains. I literally fell in love and I've been here ever since." While the landscape was a draw, Cloud says her fondness for her students, and a collaborative environment that fosters faculty creativity, has inspired her to stay. Unlike many other university music programs, Cloud and most of her colleagues continue to have active performance careers, showing students how they, too, can have fulfilling careers as performers and educators.

Cloud is also the coordinator and an enthusiastic advocate of the vocal studies program. Vocal students have access to five full-time voice faculty who are actively performing, a highly regarded choral education program, and an opera program that presents fully staged performances each semester. The goal, she says, is to help students succeed—both at the university and beyond.

"We're building a strong foundation through teaching and performance experiences," says Cloud. "And we continue to raise the bar. Students will be able to make informed decisions about choosing their career paths, because of their well-rounded, hands-on educational experiences."

Cloud's work as a composer is also bringing a spotlight to Flagstaff itself. Through her professional contacts, Cloud persuaded the International Alliance for Women in Music to hold its 2011 Congress at Northern Arizona University, which culminated with a concert performed by the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra. The previous congress was held in Beijing, China. The event brought more than 200 female musicians to northern Arizona.

Cloud recently faced her toughest challenge when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She persevered through chemotherapy and radiation, and the hair loss that treatment caused. “But now I’m back, stronger than ever, and I feel great!”

And she's a good example for her students, too.