Founded in the summer of 1973 in the Woods Hole living room of Professor Ezra Laderman, where a group of scientists and other musical friends came together to perform Bach's Sixth Brandenburg Concerto, the Woods Hole Cantata Consort was featured for the next thirty years in an annual series of summer concerts, beginning in 1974, under the aegis of the Marine Biological Laboratories.
After one of these concerts, which featured Vivaldi's "Gloria," Gerald Weissmann wrote an essay in which the Woods Hole Cantata Consort's performance serves as a take-off for a rumination about art, science and ethics, community and culture. It becomes the story of the research scientist Jacques Loeb and his work in Woods Hole. That essay is the title piece of Weissman's collection published in 1985: The Woods Hole Cantata: Essays on Science and Society. Here is its initial paragraph:
Each August, when pink mallows fill wetlands by the bay, the Woods Hole Cantata Consort gives its annual performance. In recent years, chorus and orchestra have ventured the Bach "Magnificat," Haydn's "Creation," Handel's "Alexander's Feast," and tonight, the "Gloria" of Vivaldi. The concert is given in the fieldstone Church of the Messiah, which presides over a snug churchyard almost at the verge of Vineyard Sound. Inside, the church has the trim, no-nonsense bearing of its nautical setting: bright timber work, well-hewn pews, and high brass. On the festive nights of these concerts it becomes the intersection of at least two cultures.
A year after that first concert, the Consort was formally founded by a group headed by Elizabeth Davis and Phyllis Goldstein (Switzer at that time.) Since then, it has had five music directors: Elizabeth Davis, Mary Greer, David Giesow, Gisele Tillier, and Judith C. Brownell. Especially under the leadership of Bach scholar Mary Greer (who is now President of the American Bach Society), many Bach cantatas were performed. Other featured composers have been Handel, Vivaldi, Mozart, Haydn and the early American composer, William Billings. One year, when there was no director available, Tom Moore, then a graduate stud ent in music, led a weekly madrigal group and presented a concert of madrigals at the end of the summer season. In 2004, a Thirtieth Anniversary Concert brought all six former leaders back to share the podium, and Tom Moore, now a Duke University music librarian, sang as baritone soloist.
The Woods Hole Cantata Consort's concerts have become an eagerly anticipated community tradition on the second week of August, often coinciding with the Falmouth Road Race.
Music Director Judith C. Brownell has led the Consort for over a decade. She has worked in music as a teacher, performer, coach and conductor. With degrees from Wheaton College and Boston University, she has taught in public schools, at Friends Academy, Bristol Community College and privately. She has served as organist for several churches and orchestras. From 1972-1994 she was the entrepreneurial Music Director at the First Unitarian Church, New Bedford, where she directed a professional quartet and successfully drew many to music-making. Her programming relied heavily on early music styles and on the scores of J.S. Bach, though she is fond of many styles of music. She also served as organist for Temple Sinai (Reform) in New Bedford for several years.
Judy accompanied many area choruses and soloists and became the first woman to conduct the Sippican Chorus in Marion. She organized "Summer-Sings" in New Bedford and was guest conductor for several Summer-Sings in Providence. Known for her ability to initiate, organize and collaborate, she has always worked to bring diverse musicians together. A supporter of choral arts, she hosted and co-organized the meeting that introduced the first edition of the hymnal Worship to Diocesan pastoral musicians, a meeting attended by its editor and composers. She served as a panelist for the former Massachusetts Department of Arts and Humanities. She and her husband, David, live on a small farm in South Dartmouth, MA, where they raise sheep and look out over the salt marshes toward Buzzards Bay.