HOTSEAT- Gary's charge: Getting 'tough-auditioned' singers

Talking with Judith Gary about music in general, and the Virginia Consort in particular, is like being exposed to the high beam of a New England lighthouse. Gary founded the Consort 17 years ago and has been its only director.

"In the beginning," she says, "there was only a group of us who wanted to sing together. We simply wanted to perform and to share our voices with the public. The Consort consists of 35 tough-auditioned singers. Yes, I know the word 'consort' can have other meanings, but the definition– in this context– is an ensemble of musicians."

Gary's a Virginia Beach native who has lived in Charlottesville for 33 years. She received her BA in Music Theory and Composition from Boston University and her master's in music history at UVA. Although she directs four other groups– spokes leading from the consort's hub– her energies are focused on an upcoming performance at old Cabell Hall Sunday, March 4.

"The concert starts at 3:30pm, a good time for a Sunday," she says. "The program pairs two contrasting works that appear to have little in common, but yet similarities are found in the imagination of their composers."

The Consort will perform Mozart's "Vesperae Solennes de Confessore," and Poulenc's "Gloria." 

"They are works," says Gary, "of glorious melodies, catchy motives, and electrifying rhythms. Nine rehearsals are held for the event, each lasting two hours. And I give homework. Yes, I'm tough; no, I don't use a whip."

The Festival Chorus, the High School Youth Chorale, Travel Chorus Youth Chroale and the Prelude Choir make up the Consort's spokes. Each focuses on different musical content as well as the age of participants.

"Do I sing? Yes– alto, leaning toward tenor," she laughs. "And I play the piano, but I'm not a concert pianist."

Gary reports on the practical side of music, revealing that ticket prices pay between 30 and 40 percent of the total cost of putting on a show. And when it comes to selecting the music for the Consort, she says, "I look for variety, substance, and delight."

Finally the lighthouse beam of Gary's enthusiasm for her calling goes into super-high: "Classical music is not dead!" she says. "Actually, it's quietly thriving."

So let the message go forth that Old Cabell Hall will neither be dead nor quiet on the first Sunday of March. Indeed, it will be alive with the sound of music.

Age: You have to be kidding. When I turned 45, I thought it felt like a great age, and I decided I'd stay there indefinitely. So far, so good.

Why here? My son and daughter-in-law. My work and life are all here. I came here to go to grad school and saw no reason to leave.

What's worst about living here? Traffic

Favorite hangout? I don't think I have a hangout. Maybe I should get one.

Most overrated virtue? Driving the speed limit. Just kidding, officer!

People would be surprised to know: I'm always on a diet. Also, my Christmas tree is still up.

What would you change about yourself? I'd stop fretting so much.

Proudest accomplishment? Founding the Virginia Consort, the Concert Youth Chorale, and the Concert Festival Chorus.

People find most annoying about you: Professionally, I'm a perfectionist.

Whom do you admire? The late conductor Robert Shaw.

Favorite book? The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx

Subject that causes you to rant? The musical dumbing-down of our culture, especially in some churches and schools, and pretentious artsy types.

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Favorite son's marriage to world's best daughter-in-law (actually, there's only one son).

Biggest 21st-century creep out? The number of young people who seem to have no direction or purpose to their lives, like some of the waifs on the Downtown Mall.

What do you drive? Toyota Camry– 75,000 miles, dented but unbowed

In your car CD player right now: The Poulenc "Gloria," directed by Robert Shaw, with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

Next journey? The American Choral Directors Association convention in Miami in March.

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? In childhood, several friends and I fed a younger girl candy with X-lax in it.

Regret: I never learned to play the cello.

Favorite comfort food: Thanksgiving dinner! I love the whole shebang.

Always in your refrigerator: Lean Cuisine

Must-see TV: If the Redskins ever make the Super Bowl again.

Favorite cartoon: Dilbert

Describe a perfect day: I'd get up really early, perhaps at sunrise, and my dog and I would go on a "mountain hike." Afternoon with my son and his wife doing anything, and in the evening, a fantastic dinner in a wonderful restaurant with my "foodie" friends.

Walter Mitty fantasy: Someone would give us a large enough contribution that we could give a performance of the Bach Mass in B-Minor, free free.

Who'd play you in the movie? Meryl Streep

Most embarrassing moment? I was taking my Boston High School choir on a tour, and going onto the stage, I took a pratfall before the full audience.

Best advice you ever got? From a long-time mentor in Boston: "It's not about you."

Judith Gary