Arts Advocates: Mary Watson-Bruce

Mary Watson-Bruce (Photo by Will Tee Yang)


Q and A with Mary Watson-Bruce

Mary Watson-Bruce, Ph.D. social sciences ’82, has an extensive history with UCI. She served as the associate director of geriatric medicine at UCI for ten years, and her late husband, Dickson Bruce, was a professor of history for over four decades. A lifelong music lover, Watson-Bruce is the founding chair of the UCI Opera Guild, and a member of the CTSA Dean’s Arts Board. She is also a founding member of the OC Women’s Chorus, an ambassador for the Irvine Barclay Theatre, and a season ticket holder for the Long Beach Opera and LA Opera.

Q. When did your love of singing start, and how have you nurtured it over time?

MWB: I was born into it. My great grandfather was an enslaved man who made and played his own fiddles (violins) for the pleasure of his enslavers. At the end of enslavement, he destroyed every one of them, because playing them brought him no joy. My grandmother, his daughter, could play piano by ear, and I was taught piano at an early age. My mother was a singer and often a soloist in church choirs. One of her brothers played with Lightnin’ Hopkins’ blues band. My grandmother had a wind-up Victrola record player and we would play blues, opera, jazz and contemporary music. I’m 75, so my life spans a large part of what music in America is.

Q. And you’re still singing, too.

MWB: That’s right. I was a founding member of the OC Women’s Chorus, and this summer we will be spotlighted at Carnegie Hall, with our own 12-song presentation.

Q. Given your own work in geriatrics, how do you think music can be beneficial as we get older?

MWB: I serve on the board for Innovative Housing Opportunities, which builds housing for homeless veterans, emancipated youth and seniors, and I’ve always argued for having good art where people live. We recently opened a building with a living garden designed by Laguna Beach artists on a wall, and a veteran who had been homeless for 15 years said, “You built this for me?” He couldn’t believe anybody could see his humanity. Art is why people live; it’s what motivates them. It’s a validation of the humanity that we all have.

Q. Is there a concert you’ve attended at CTSA that stands out to you as being especially memorable?

MWB: Yes! They’ve done great presentations of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. I’ve seen them do it twice; the first time was many years ago. The students are so creative with the costumes and the sets.

Q. As the founding chair of the UCI Opera Guild, why do you feel it’s important for others to support music and the opera program at UCI?

MWB: If you like opera, you’ll understand why it’s important. We’re trying to find people who are already opera fans but don’t know about UCI’s opera program, and people who haven’t experienced opera yet. Our goal is to eventually raise enough money for an endowment. But already, generous donors have donated supertitles so the audience can see the libretto in English, and some of our members give one or two of their season tickets to local operas to allow vocal students to enjoy the performances.

Q. As we return to live concerts, shows and exhibitions, what role do you see music playing in “reactivating our community?”

MWB: The CTSA provides a place where people can mingle with others and get entertained outside of the house, while still wearing their masks and carrying their hand sanitizer. These performances provide opportunities for people to re-engage in things they have always loved. It stimulates the mind and the entire body. It’s like your blood is coursing through your veins, picking up all the detritus of two years and emptying it out of your body, ready to become something else.


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CONNECT - Winter 2022

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Posted Date: 
Tuesday, February 8, 2022