"These kids are really, really great and their success is all theirs," said Stuart, who has over 30 years invested in musical education. "I do what I do because it is my passion, and I think I convey that to the students. I teach them to aim high."
And this season is no exception. Stuart and her À Cappella Choir and Chamber Singers are in the initial planning stages of a performance trip to Britain next year.
Having performed in such prestigious competitions as the National Festival of the States and the New York Choral Festival, Stuart's singers are well aware of the commitment required for such an undertaking.
Thanks in large part to the enormous success of their ambitious booster club, 80VOLTS, past trips have been sponsored nearly 100 percent through public and private donations. Next year's trip, which will include performances throughout Britain as part of the 2007 American Celebration of Music, promises to be the group's most expensive venture yet.
"Yes, this is a big undertaking," said 80VOLTS Publicity Chair and Co-secretary Diane Stockman. "But we're excited. We've spent the summer planning for the coming year, and we think it is going to be really great."
Upcoming fund-raisers include a golf tournament Oct. 23 at the Discovery Bay Country Club. A number of other events are on the planning boards.
Over the past 30 years, Stuart has molded and melded some of the best, brightest and most talented voices in Contra Costa County, if not the state. Her innate sensitivity and genuine love of music has earned her a strong and loyal following among her students.
"Mrs. Stuart is a great teacher," said William Calderon, a tenor in the À Cappella Choir. "Her style is really different and she knows what she's doing. She makes the class fun."
A self-taught musician who began playing the piano at age 6 ("I just learned by watching and doing"), Stuart believes that music should be enjoyable, but also that it should be taken seriously.
"I tell the kids that this should be fun," said Stuart. "But I also expect them to come to class prepared and ready. Some sign up for music because they think it is going to be an easy A, and that's not the case."
Students interested in the choral program, which is comprised of five choirs, must audition, and for some of the upper choirs, the tryouts can be rigorous.
"There are certain criteria for some of the choirs," said Stuart. "In some they have to be able to sight read and be able to sing back patterns to … but I would take a kid with desire and enthusiasm over talent any day."
In the end, it is Stuart's obvious love for and camaraderie with her students that makes the program such a success. "Mrs. Stuart is wonderful, " said À Cappella alto Daniela Somarriba. "She inspires us to be do our best, and we want to do our best so we can make her proud."
"We're like a big family here," said Brett Gravatt, a junior and the new tenor section leader this year for the À Cappella Choir. "It's a great feeling."
For further information on 80VOLTS events, including the upcoming golf tournament, call 516-5979, or visit www.80volts.com.