She's the mistress of music.
The queen of the choir.
The siren of the stage.
And now, the grand dame of the operetta.
Theresa Jean Kibby is one of Pulaski County's brightest artistic talents. The new choir director at First Presbyterian Church in Somerset, as well as the music director for the upcoming Flashback Theater Co. production of "Pirates of Penzance," Kibby knows how to nurture amateur musicians and bring out the best in them.
"That's something I realized I'm good at. I'm good at a lot of things, but I felt this is where my call was," she said.
Kibby grew up in the Cincinnati area, but was familiar with Somerset for a long time.
"My parents were 'Ohio Navy,'" she said, using the term for the influx of northerners that annually visit the friendly waters of Lake Cumberland. "They came down in the summer quite a lot."
Her senior year of high school, they actually moved to Pulaski County, but Kibby wouldn't call it her home quite yet, as she stayed behind and finished school in Cincinnati, then went to study at Indiana State University in Terre Haute. She wouldn't move down to this area until 1993 but has been here ever since.
"I never wanted to leave," she said. "I love it here."
Somerset represented a place of stability after a "crisis" of personal direction Kibby faced in college. She started out in music education with an instrumental emphasis, but started vocal lessons her third year, just to provide a student to someone who needed to teach.
"I discovered I had a voice," she said.
"Some of the plateaus I had as a saxophonist and woodwind specialist, I could break through with my voice," she added. "I broke through and discovered myself."
Her crisis came in her fifth year, when she started to go out into schools, and realized that wasn't what she wanted to do after all.
"I didn't mind education, I just didn't want to be in public schools," she said. "So I left college in a cave. I didn't know what to do next."
Opportunity came in Somerset thanks to local theatre director Steve Cleberg and the drama program at Somerset Community College.
"I hadn't done straight plays. I had done an opera production in college, but it was at the end of my college career," she said. "I came down and (SCC was) having auditions, so I went and auditioned for Steve, and that changed everything."
Kibby has been a fixture on the SCC stage ever since, continuing in the program's productions to this day, virtually every season.
But her work with the college opened up another opportunity, as First Presbyterian Church in London, Ky., contacted the school in 1999, looking for leads on someone to serve as choir director.
"I said, 'I can do this,'" recalled Kibby. She noted that while she had studied conducting some, it had mainly been for instruments, not vocals. However, "I did some soul-searching, and said, 'I can do this. I can read music. I can be a choir director.'"
Kibby directed in London for 20 years before leaving in January to come direct at Somerset's own historic First Presbyterian Church, located downtown. New pastor Andrew Bowman arrived in October, pianist Debby McDonald came a month later, and Kibby took over the choir in February.
"We're brand-new, all of us," she said.
She said the people in London "were wonderful to me, supported me as a musicians and as a Christian. It was a great fit for me.
"I think that was my real calling," she said. "All that grooming was to be a church musician."
She compared constructing the music of a worship service to theater, creating something unique, tying it together with the narrative of the sermon and the scripture, and helping the members of the choir to become worship leaders, "to use their gifts for a greater purpose."
Kibby has many gifts -- and not just in the performing arts. She has also been a longtime party of the Sheltowee Artisans, making her own unique jewelry which she can be found selling at numerous Sheltowee Artisan events.
Her latest project is directing the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera for Flashback Theater Company. Tickets are on sale now for the production, which will be staged June 6-9 and 13-16, with Sunday matinees. (Visit www.flashbacktheater.co or call (888) 394-FbTC for tickets or more information.)
Many of the actors in the opera are local stage regulars but not focused musicians per se, save for headliner Amanda Balltrip of Somerset, a trained operatic performer. Working with performers "whose emphasis is not in music" and making it accessible to them has been a new challenge for Kibby, but one she's come to welcome.
"It's tying both (my performing) worlds together," she said. "I wasn't sure we could do it ... but my thinking was folly. If I had not been open to it, this group of individuals would have never had the chance to do this great work."
Kibby is used to being the performer on stage, so being involved with theater but being behind the baton is another wrinkle in her routine. However, she's pleased with the musical fruits of her labor.
"It's challenging to be on this side of the production table," she said. "I like to be on stage. I need that in my life, that focus. If I had a crisis, it's from it being totally different being on this side of it. But now that it's here and time to perform, I'm all in. I'm enjoying it, I'm being fed, and it's very rewarding."