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Ars Nova Singers Presents a Chain of Inspiration

by Marc Shulgold, featured on Denver’s performing arts blog, The Scen3

Artistic Director Tom Morgan

For Tom Morgan, the concept for concerts by his chamber choir seems pretty straight forward. In fact the title of those concerts and name of his ensemble say it all. “Shared Visions is truly ‘ars nova’ – new art,” he wrote me, “forged from shared inspirations of visual art, poetry and sound.”

For the audience attending Morgan’s Ars Nova Singers season-ending concerts in June, it all looks delightful, engaging and quite inspiring.

For each of the four painters and poets chosen through a long selection process, these three programs are the result of heightened creativity – and a bit of fingers-crossed, with hopes of being among the few selected among eight artists and 24 artworks, boiled down to just four works paired with choral music by four composers. As for those poets and their 45 submitted poems, only four would be selected to be matched with art works, those poems then set to music by four Colorado composers (Morgan among them) – each working from paintings and poems.

Morgan has the perfect phrase for this intricate process: “four chains of inspiration.” As for the visual artists and poets, rather than treat this as a stressful contest, it proved a challenging and exciting journey. At least it was for one young poet.

Poet Hayden Dansky

“There was one painting in which I had an instant connection,” said Boulder resident Hayden Dansky, “I viewed 20 or 25 paintings online and had months to whittle them down, to find one that spoke to me. But I found time to breathe this one in.”

That painting was by another Boulderite, Michiko Theurer, a watercolor-and-ink canvas titled “Amethyst.” Hayden couldn’t quite describe what it was that inspired their poem, “Shattering Love,” but it was the complexity of the painting’s composition that touched them.

As a result, the writing came easily. “I let myself free-write. I let it go, then my process took over – which is to go back to it, and read it over and over.” Dansky is described as “a transgender nonbinary rural queer kid trying their best to not be smothered by capitalism.” Their website reveals a prodigious talent for performance poetry with musical accompaniment and an impressive gift for nature photography. A sample of their poem, “Shattering Love”:

I know nothing

more of love than you

because I learn it with you

as we grow together

Visual Artist Michiko Theurer

Creating “Amethyst” was a very different process for Theurer (pronounced Toy-rer), since her painting had been already completed when the invitation came to submit works for Ars Nova. In addition to being a talented painter, she has just finished her dissertation toward a PhD in musicology at Stanford, having received a DMA in violin performance at CU Boulder, studying with Harumi Rhodes and Edward Dusinberre, members of the Takács Quartet .

“Last year, Harumi put me in touch with Tom (Morgan) and he asked me for submissions,” Theurer recalled. “I had this painting I’d done for the Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival in Greenville, North Carolina – I did some works for them over the past 15 years. I selected three paintings that would be appropriate for listening.”

Theurer found that working on a canvas was an ideal pairing for her life in music, “Painting gave me a space to play with,” she said. In fact, she’s long been involved in other media, collaborating with such experimental artists as Meredith Monk and Eighth Blackbird, and as co-founder of the Bay Area-based fff Ensemble, billed as “an interdisciplinary feminist improv collective.”

Being partnered with Hayden Dansky and their deeply personal poem was a special experience, she said. “I felt grateful, honored. Hayden’s words are so heartfelt. They showed me there are so many ways to interact with a painting. It made me wonder, what were the things that drew them to this particular painting? I suppose you can see some sadness in the poem, the title suggests  it – ‘Shattering Love.’ But I don’t think that sadness and joy are necessarily separate. In reading the poem, I find that I have a deep connection with Hayden’s words.”

(* “Shattering Love” is also the title of the new work by composer Leigha Amick.)

Ars Nova Singers

Ars Nova Singers will present Fruition: Shared Visions at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 7 in Stewart Auditorium, Longmont; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 8 in Central Presbyterian Church, Denver; and 7 p.m. Sunday, June 9 in the Dairy Arts Center, Boulder. Information: arsnovasingers.org