Thomas Edward Morgan: 2019 Distinguished Alumnus
Lauded by the Daily Camera as “a many-splendored musician who can shape a line to realize to the fullest extent the intentions of the composer,” Thomas Edward Morgan (MM ’87)—founding artistic director and conductor of the Ars Nova Singers—is this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award, to be conferred by the College of Music at its spring commencement ceremony on May 9.
Under Morgan’s leadership, Ars Nova (Latin for “new art”) is widely recognized as one of the region’s premier ensembles. Specializing in a cappella music of the Renaissance and the 20th and 21st centuries, Ars Nova—now in its 33rd year—comprises selectively auditioned choral musicians from the Boulder-Denver metro area. To date, the group has presented more than 400 performances of 100-plus distinct concert programs.
“I came from a really strong choral music program at Macalester College in Minnesota,” says Morgan, reflecting on how his undergraduate degree ultimately pointed him toward continuing his studies at the CU Boulder College of Music. “Alongside a challenging academic liberal arts degree, I studied choral and orchestral conducting with Dale Warland.”
Indeed, Morgan stepped in as assistant conductor for the renowned choral composer and conductor, and also sang under his direction. From there, he decided a graduate degree in composition would round out who he was becoming as a musician. At the same time, he forged a bond with Professor Emeritus of Music Giora Bernstein, conductor, classical violinist, and founder and artistic director of the Colorado Music Festival.
“The opportunity to gain different perspectives from working with both orchestral and choral musicians really helped me in my career,” says Morgan. “In the first year of my master’s, I studied with Richard Toensing. In my second year, I studied with Charles Eakin. And my master’s thesis was with Luis Gonzalez. I’m very much indebted to each of them.”
Morgan also studied with American conductor Joshua Rifkin and German conductor Helmut Rilling, and he’s taken master classes with Swedish conductors Eric Ericson and Herbert Blomstedt—all of great renown in their own right. “Working with these scholars at CU and beyond the university was really formative for me,” he says. “I wouldn’t have had any of that if I hadn’t been in the master’s program at the College of Music. The opportunities and connections I made further positioned where I was headed in my career.
“CU gave me an incredible foundation.”
Morgan’s more recent accomplishments include a residency with the Lucas Artists Residency Program at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, as well as a collaboration with New York visual artist Lesley Dill in the production of “I Heard a Voice”—an extended work for a cappella chorus premiered by Ars Nova. Additionally, Morgan’s composition “Psalm 88” for orchestra and chorus received the prestigious BMI Award, and his choral work “Four Poems of e. e. cummings” was presented on the opening program of the eighth Internacional Musica Nueva festival in Mexico City. Several of his works have also been performed internationally by the Peiyang Chorus of Tianjin, China.
Acknowledged as a leading interpreter of new music in Colorado, Morgan’s leadership of Ars Nova has elevated its reach and reputation nationally, including being selected as a semifinalist for The American Prize in choral performance (2010). The ensemble has been heard in radio broadcasts throughout the world, including such National Public Radio programs as Performance Today, The First Art, Music from the Hearts of Space, and locally on Colorado Spotlight and Colorado Matters. All told, Ars Nova has released 10 independent recordings, and performed on seven internationally released recordings with Boulder composer and instrumentalist Bill Douglas.
“From the beginning, our focus has been on really early music and discoveries still to be made in the vast repertoire of Renaissance music, along with contemporary, more unusual music,” Morgan says. “We bring to the forefront the outer ends of the spectrum of repertoire, often requiring many different parts.
“We do a lot of 16-part music. Across the country, the artistic level required to do that is fairly rare, as is the ability to commit to it.”
Moreover, Morgan is committed to building community, including collaborative performances with—among others—Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance and the Fiske Planetarium, plus a world premiere of Peter-Anthony Togni’s “Warrior Songs” with legendary jazz percussionist Jerry Granelli, the U.S. premiere of Arvo Pärt’s “Salve Regina” with Sphere Ensemble and a rendition of Giya Kancheli’s “Amao Omi” with the Colorado Saxophone Quartet. Further collaborative feats for Ars Nova include Morten Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna” with the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, the Colorado premiere of Carol Barnett’s “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass with Jake Schepps and Expedition,” Osvaldo Golijov’s “Oceana” cantata with Pro Musica Colorado, and a critically acclaimed performance of Terry Riley’s “Sun Rings” with the eminent Kronos Quartet at the Colorado Music Festival.
“We have a very stable organization right now,” concludes Morgan. “We’ve hired a new executive director, and we’re developing an endowment that will allow Ars Nova to survive me and to remain stable for many years to come.
“Good things are happening. I’m looking forward to being artistic director emeritus someday and seeing how someone else will build on what we’ve done.”
In addition to his dedication to the Ars Nova Singers, Morgan serves as music director of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, a position he’s held more than three decades.
Daniel and Boyce Sher: Distinguished Service Award recipients
The college will also recognized two familiar members of the College of Music family with the annual Distinguished Service Award at commencement. Dean Emeritus Daniel Sher and his wife Boyce will return to the Grusin stage for the honor.
Sher, who was dean of the college from 1993 until 2013, says he and his wife did not expect the award. “Boyce and I felt profoundly honored—taken aback, really—when Dean Shay told us about receiving the Service Award,” Sher explains. “We are gratified to be a part of a college that has continued on a steady trajectory to greater levels of excellence.”
Dean Sher earned degrees in piano performance and pedagogy from Oberlin, Juilliard and Columbia University Teachers College before becoming an award-winning teacher and later dean of the Louisiana State University School of Music. During his time at CU Boulder, the College of Music established—among other noteworthy initiatives—the Entrepreneurship Center for Music, degrees in jazz studies and collaborative piano, and the Pendulum New Music and CU NOW programs.
Boyce studied piano performance at Eastman School of Music and was a Fulbright Scholar in Rome before enrolling in the Doctor of Music Education program at Columbia Teachers College—where she met Daniel Sher. The two have performed as a piano duo throughout the country, including at Alice Tully Hall in New York. The two have performed as a piano duo throughout the country, including at Alice Tully Hall in New York. Boyce juggled raising the couple’s two sons with performing and teaching for many years. She and her sister established an endowed scholarship for a graduate voice student at the College of Music in honor of their mother. Boyce has been an active partner throughout their marriage, hosting and organizing many events and trips for faculty, staff and friends of the college.
“We are so very proud of this faculty, supported by a wonderful staff, who work collaboratively and cooperatively together,” Dean Sher says. “This collegiality has become a signature value of the college that, maybe more than any other, has contributed to its success.
“We have also been privileged to engage with an ever growing ‘family’ of volunteers who have a deep personal investment in all that we do,” Sher says of the extended group of supporters who have become dear friends to his wife and him.
The Shers remain actively involved in the college’s activities. Receiving this award, Dean Sher adds, is especially gratifying after nearly three decades of time spent in the college community. “We have seen the positive impact that the College of Music has had on generations of students and the community.”
College of Music commencement is Thursday, May 9, at 3:30 p.m. in Grusin Music Hall.