Originally published by Marc Shulgold for The Scen3: “Ars Nova Sings Together and Apart”
Tom Morgan has one goal in mind for the Ars Nova Singers’ upcoming performance on Youtube. “I want our audience to get an Ars Nova experience,” the chamber choir’s director stressed. An admirable goal. And it may happen – but that experience will be like no other.
At 7 p.m. on Sunday, October 25, Morgan will lead four groups of eight singers each in an online virtual concert titled “Together, Apart – Awake With Heart.” There will be no live audience, and most of the performances will be seen on tape, recorded earlier in an empty Broomfield Auditorium.
Perhaps we should explain.
This unorthodox concert is being presented in the midst of unorthodox times. The pandemic crisis has radically altered life for Morgan and his brilliant chamber choir, curtailing their performing schedule, but not dampening their spirit. “We hadn’t been together since mid-March,” the conductor said, adding that rehearsals finally resumed on September 17. “The singers are ecstatic about once again doing things together.”
But those things are radically different. “When we started up,” Morgan explained, “we had to think of ways to use our new technology and work with new parameters.”
The parameters are connected to the dangerous presence of Covid-19, a threat that has been taken very seriously by the ensemble. Social distancing was observed, with rehearsals and taped performances carefully structured to minimize interaction among the four vocal octets. Masks were continually in place – even in the final run-through, held October 8.
Wait a minute – a choir singing through masks? How was that possible? Those masks, Morgan explained, are not your typical face coverings. “We use singers masks. They’re designed to be placed a short distance away from the face.”
That said, the resulting sound inevitably fell short of the familiar warmth and clarity of Ars Nova. “You’re not hearing what you’re usually hearing,” Morgan admitted. “It is muffled, which is pretty frustrating. I’ve asked them to try and sing with more brightness.” To enhance Youtube auditors’ viewing experience, supertitles of texts will be employed.
All those unfortunate pandemic-related limitations will be offset by some intriguing technological wizardry employed to turn this virtual concert into a visual treat. “We’ve filmed the singers with six cameras, using lots of different angles and fade-outs,” Morgan said, with the understanding that “we can’t expect people to look at masked singers for very long.” Through clever video editing and mixing, all four octets, 32 singers in all, will appear to be onstage together, though that never actually happened.
The repertory will offer “an Americana theme,” the conductor said. Offerings include three short works by George Lynn, based for years at the University of Colorado Boulder; and pieces by a trio of African-American composers: Undine Smith Moore, Marques Garrett and Carlos Simon.
In this election season, Morgan and Ars Nova are not shying away from politics, as seen in their reading of Benjamin Britten’s Advanced Democracy, arousing call to unity, written in 1939. Its closing words become inspiring in these troublesome days:
Time to resolve divisions, time to renew our pride,
Time to decide, time to burst our house of glass.
Rise as a single being in one resolve arrayed:
Life shall be for the people that’s by the people made.