Mistress of Song: Judy Clothier
by Steven Ayres
I've been singing since I was a little girl," says Judy Clothier, and sharing the love of song has been a theme through her entire life.
Growing up in Duncan, on the eastern edge of the state where the Gila River comes in from New Mexico, music was central to her daily life. "My family was artistically diverse, which is an inherited syndrome. My dad was a classically trained tenor who played banjo and guitar in a band, and taught art. My mom played the piano and my brother, piano and trombone." When future Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day and John O'Connor married on the Day family ranch in 1952, they danced to Judy's parents' band.
Judy took her love of music with her when she enrolled at the University of Arizona, choosing to study voice. She married a medical student in '62, and built a family as he moved on his career path, taking them first to Memphis, Tennessee, through assignments in West Virginia, New Orleans, New York, and eventually back west to Gallup. By then they were looking to settle down permanently, and Judy thought of Prescott, a "nice little town" for raising their kids. It also offered a little school called Yavapai College.
"I came to Prescott in 1973, when the college was very, very small. We had music classes upstairs, over the gym, and the rooms always smelled like chlorine. All concerts were held in the gym. There was no library building, no performing arts building, and of course most of the buildings we have now were nonexistent. Jim Burns, who was head of vocal music, loved musicals and wanted to mount The King and I. He persuaded the baseball players to participate (they were national champions back then), and the boys all shaved their heads. I played the role of Anna opposite a very tall college boy. I was a young mom then, probably 15 years his senior, but it seemed to work."
"Later, when Jim retired, Dr. Will Fisher took over the role as choral music department head, and I worked for him teaching voice and assisting with other music events."
Fisher offered his department the freedom to explore methods and have fun with it, and Judy has been teaching ever since.
Inspiring her love of performance was JoAn Ramsay. "JoAn moved to town about 1975 and saw me perform in The King and I. She invited me to study voice with her and since she became the guru of the Prescott Fine Arts Association (now Prescott Center for the Arts) for years and years, I had many leading roles. These included Sally Adams in Call Me Madam, Kate in Girl Crazy, Mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors, Baba in The Medium, Tessa in The Gondoliers, and so on. She helped me choose music and perform three one-woman shows, participate in many choral concerts and duet recitals with Linda Sheehan and Liz Riley, and sing around town in dozens of events.
In 1990, Judy moved to Tucson for nine years and sang as a contract chorister with the Arizona Opera Company. "It was a unique and wonderful experience. One of my favorite operas was Aida, complete with camels! After working on my Masters in Children's Literature, I eventually moved back to Prescott and began teaching music in the Humboldt and Prescott Unified districts. Once back, I continued performing and writing children's musicals, three of which have been performed on the PFAA/PCA stage."
Her teaching approach reflects her classical background, even as the music kids are exposed to continues to change. "It's a mixed blessing. The kids go online and hear singers, and they want to imitate them and mimic them, and that's not always good." She believes that solid grounding in technique is key. "With good breath control, posture, focus and thinking I've seen some students improve a hundred percent, and you can do anything down the road." "I was classically trained, but I like to sing the blues, I like to sing easy-listening stuff, and I also like art songs and opera, I like it all."
She advocates for teaching kids in group singing first. "Linda Sheehan and I did a small group choir at Prescott Fine Arts for two or three years, we had some really nice arrangements for children, and they got hooked. That encourages them to go forward later."
A few years ago, when the college's new theatre-arts program was just beginning, arts dean Dr. Craig Ralston asked Judy whether she knew anyone who could help with scenery. "I'd had a mural business for years with my friend Carol Gardner, and had helped Noelene Patterson, who paints sets at PCA, so I timidly volunteered."
She describes it as an exciting and challenging new adventure. "I've now painted for ten shows, with the help of lots of internet searching and how-to research. It has been helpful to me to have had such great YC instructors over the years who have taught me about line and color, including Glen Peterson, Steve Mason, Bonnie Stauffer, Lauren McCrae, Ken Ottinger, and many others. The actors sign up to help, and it's fun to mentor them in the scene-painting process. It makes them aware of how much goes into the look of a show. When a show looks good, people enjoy looking at it as a complete whole. If something doesn't look right, it sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. My favorite tool is a large T-square given to me by Bill Boy at YC. If one stripe of painted wallpaper isn't straight, the effect is ruined."
With college shows and classes suspended due to the pandemic, Judy is bridging the gap by reviving her mural business, doing custom paintings for homes and businesses. Some of her older work still decorates the interiors of Waffles 'n' More in Prescott, Jamie's Waffle Express in Prescott Valley, and the Hampton Inn swimming pool off Lee Blvd.
"I still love performing, but roles are rare for someone of my age and stage of life. It was a thrill to play Jack's Mother in Into the Woods at YC, and the old woman in Mary Poppins. Most recently I was the Yenta in the PCA production of Fiddler on the Roof and Bloody Mary in South Pacific."
"When one loves the arts in any form," she says, "life is never dull!"
Steven Ayres is editor of 5enses.
From Call Me Madam
Above, study of Havasu Falls in colored pencil; below, wall art in a private home
Judy as Bloody Mary in South Pacific at PCA