By Peter Alexander Feb. 17 at 9:40 p.m.
“We wanted to bring the music from one of our finer performances,” Tom Morgan says.
The conductor of Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers wanted to offer a free online gift to the disaster-wearied local community at the start of 2022, before the choir starts having in-person rehearsals and performances later in the spring. But he faced one problem: the group has made a lot of sound recordings of their concerts, but not any videos.
What he wanted to share was a pre-COVID performance from October 2018, of Will Todd’s Mass in Blue, a jazz-inflected, modern setting of movements from the Latin Mass. Morgan decided that rather than showing a static image or series of still images, which he says are “not particularly interesting to look at,” he would create his own video with abstract and natural imagery to accompany the music.
Under the title “Made Cool,” the resulting video will be offered free to the public at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18, through the Ars Nova Web page.
With imagery that responds to the music rather than any specifics of the liturgical texts, the video transcends specific religious or doctrinal interpretations. Morgan feels that style of video fits well with the score, which brings together a jazz trio of piano, bass and drums with a virtuosic soprano solo and the choir.
“Todd in his conception and setting is making a pretty clear attempt to universalize the mass,” Morgan says. “He’s trying to make it more both modern and universal by taking it into this musical language.
“I thought we should go even a step further with the visuals. It adds another layer of meaning to the music. To establish the intent of universalizing the mass and bringing it to a wider audience, I thought a video overlay that also universalizes the mass opened it up to more interpretation, (by) not being overly literal with the mass.”
The video is very much a COVID-era product. To build his skills in video editing, Morgan took online video-editing classes during the early months of pandemic. He first used his newly-developed abilities in his former job as music director at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder. With that experience, he then transferred those skills to his work with Ars Nova.
Morgan plans to make more use of his video editing experience in future work with Ars Nova. Now that he has retired from his church job, he has “more opportunities to think about how we do the art that we do, in ways that is not the usual concert,” he says. Since the pandemic, “we’re having to think in new ways and broaden what we do. It’s a good challenge, but a necessary one right now.”
In creating the “Made Cool” video, Morgan selected a different visual theme for each of the six movements of Todd’s Mass. These range from photos he himself took in a church in England to visuals of nature and natural phenomena. Other than the photos Morgan took in the Sanctus movement, they mostly came from online sources.
“There’s online libraries of all kind of video possibilities, used for advertising,” Morgan explains. “There’s also wonderful public libraries like from NASA, and those have been valuable and interesting to work with, too.”
In some cases Morgan was able to connect with specific photographers whose online material he responded to, and get more material from them. He could use the visuals in that way to create continuity within a movement, for example—“so that it’s not completely a mishmash,” he says.
“I thought about how a narrative might come through each particular movement, and also something that would connect across the piece. I tried to find little arcs within the movements and then find an overall one that would allow the music to expand into that space. That also ties into what an actual Mass is, in terms of a sequence that has a relationship to redemptive history.”
Many of the videos were available for a small fee, although Morgan and Ars Nova drew the line at paying one videographer in England £45 per second for his video. “That’s way out of our price range,” Morgan says. “We said, ‘Let’s find something else!’” Other material however they paid for the rights to use, the same as they did for the music and the performances of the musicians involved.
With the video, Morgan is taking part in the development of new forms of art—a kind of classical choral-music video. “It’s a different take on the traditional choral concert,” he says.
“I hope it will get out to a wider audience than our usual concert supporters.”
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Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director
With Kathryn Radakovich, soprano; Scott Martin, piano; Mark Diamond, bass; and Russ Meissner, drums
Video editing by Tom Morgan
Will Todd: Mass in Blue
- Agnus Dei
7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18
Free virtual performance HERE