Interviewed by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem
Julia Aubrey has been a leader in music and the arts at the University of Mississippi and in the Oxford community for more than 25 years. From 1995 to 2021, she was director of opera theater and taught voice, advanced opera and song literature courses. She served as vocal area head and assistant chairman of the department of music and was president of the National Opera Association. For 12 years, she was musical director for the theater department, and she was associate artistic director, stage and musical director for the Oxford Shakespeare Festival for eight years. She is currently director of the Ford Center for the Performing Arts.
Q: How long have you been director of the Ford Center, and what do you do in the role?
A: I was hired as the full-time director in June 2016. As the director of opera theater, and an associate professor in the department of music since 1995, I had the opportunity to perform and direct in this wonderful facility. I was delighted to take on a new leadership role and continue the great arts tradition established when the Ford Center opened in 2003. As director, I book the touring shows each season, manage an excellent staff, administer the budget and develop fundraising initiatives. I miss teaching university students, and the 100 shows I directed in my career, but I’m only across the street if they want to visit!
Q: What does the Ford Center add to the university and northeast Mississippi?
A: The Ford Center is a jewel for the region, bringing diverse musical and theatrical events of all genres presented in a truly stellar performing arts facility. Conceived as the vision of (former) Chancellor Robert C. Khayat and supported by the Ford Foundation and University of Mississippi, the Ford Center will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2023. We are planning a star-studded gala to commemorate this important milestone on March 24, 2023.
Q: How do you encourage an appreciation for the arts in young people?
A: My husband and I, through the Ford Center, have offered the summer Youth Music Theatre Workshop for 25 years. Children ages 7 to 17 have the opportunity to express themselves through music and drama, developing their imaginations as well as performance skills. I believe early exposure to live performances creates a lifelong appreciation for the arts. That is one reason I created the Daytime School Series that brings children into the Ford Center to see live shows.
Q: Where did you get your love of music?
A: I was lucky to be born into a musical family with healthy doses of theatricality. Singing and playing instruments were part of our daily lives. My husband, Dr. Robert Aubrey, is a singer, conductor and music educator. We have collaborated on many operas and musical theater productions for over 40 years. All three sons, Jory, Miles and Michael, are musicians, singers or songwriters. Two married singers, Leslie and Erica, and their children and grandchildren have all inherited the musical gene.