At 89, lifelong musician keeps inspiring York County casts
In describing York Township resident and Theatre Arts for Everyone musical director Jacquelyn Sutton, one could come up with several adjectives: wise, active, grateful, pain-free.
That last one is one Sutton herself is surprised by.
“Lucky me, I have no aches and pains,” the 89-year-old said in a phone interview on Sunday, Nov. 26, though she quickly refuted her own compliment.
“I don’t believe there is luck — I believe in blessings,” she said in describing her Christian faith, “and I am blessed indeed.”
Sutton is spending her retirement in the only way she knows, by staying active in the community and spreading her love of music.
Her most immediate venture is scoring TAFE’s musical production of “A Christmas Carol,” the only one that will be running in York County this season, according to Diane Crews, co-founder of TAFE (pronounced “taffy”).
“She is a wonderful musician,” Crews said of Sutton, who wrote all of the music for the rendition of the classic book by Charles Dickens. Crews wrote and is directing the production.
Crews, who worked at DreamWrights Center for Community Arts for more than 20 years, directed the production twice there as a full musical and once a cappella at York Little Theatre, now The Belmont Theatre.
“It was a play with music, and (Sutton) turned it into a musical,” Crews said.
Two of Sutton's fellow pit members, father-daughter pair Bob and Paige Hoke, said Sutton has been a musical mentor throughout their lives.
Paige Hoke, now a music educator at York Country Day School, said she has learned from Sutton since she was 7 years old.
"Jacquie's been such an underlying influence in my life," she said.
Five decades of music: Sutton started spreading her musical knowledge in York County in 1962, when she taught elementary music in the Red Lion Area School District.
She had moved to York County from East Smithfield, Bradford County, a town near the Pennsylvania state border with New York, after her husband became the principal of Northeastern High School.
In 1969, Sutton took a teaching job with York City schools, where she was involved in an array of musical activities, including vocal coaching sessions, musical rehearsals and writing what would become the William Penn Senior High School’s piano lab program.
She ended her professional career in 1983, and she and her husband spent eight years in retirement until his death in 1991.
That’s when Crews said she first met Sutton while working at York Little Theatre, now The Belmont Theatre.
“Many people come to (the theater) in times like that,” Crews said.
The piano, Sutton’s prized instrument, is what sits her down from her active lifestyle.
Sutton brought Hollybelle, her miniature schnauzer, to rehearsals at York Little Theatre. Hollybelle would sit quietly beside Sutton while Sutton played the piano for hours, according to Crews.
“She doesn’t play the piano,” Crews said. “She caresses it.”
York theater 'strong': For more than a quarter century, Sutton assisted the spring musical productions at Northeastern High School, and she is continuing her work with York County students with TAFE.
In a recent rehearsal, flanked by fellow pit members, Sutton had command of cast members as they prepared for a breathing exercise.
"Hands on your diaphragm, feet apart," she said. They quickly got into formation.
The "Christmas Carol" cast of over 40 includes many students and has an age range of 7 to 71 years old at different points in their musical theater experience.
The diversity, Sutton said, exhibits TAFE's mission to "give everyone the opportunity to be involved in, educated about and entertained by the art of live theater."
"It’s such a joy to see them blossom and see them improve. I really have high hopes," she added.
She said she believes the state of theater in York County is "very strong" after recent renovations at local venues including DreamWrights and The Belmont, as well as the continuing success of the Appell Center for the Performing Arts.
"There are so many viable options for people to enjoy (musicals) at a very modest cost," she said. "I would hope people will come out and support that."
The TAFE season-ending production of "A Christmas Carol" will run Dec. 8-10 at the York Learning Center, 300 E. Seventh Ave. in North York. Tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the door. To order ahead, visit TAFE's website at www.tafepa.org.