Art and music can convey meaning deeper than what we see on the surface. The MU School of Music’s Ars Nova Singers and Museum of Art and Archaeology showcase how powerful the two art forms are when paired together in their annual collaboration.

In 2011, R. Paul Crabb, MU’s director of choral activities, visited the museum and met the Academic Coordinator Arthur Mehrhoff. The two began discussing the relationship between visual and aural art.

“He really helped organize the museum staff, who jumped right in and created this wonderful collaboration,” Crabb says. “It’s been a rich, meaningful exercise for our community.”

Their concept bloomed into a yearly performance: the Music & Art Concert.

The concert is structured to relate each piece of music to a specific piece of art in the Museum of Art and Archaeology. The audience sees the art that inspired the music choices from pictures in the program. They’re printed and fill up entire pages.

“I’ve had gifted, dedicated grad students who have always conducted the concert,” Crabb says. “The staff of the museum, the various grad students over the years and I always work together to find new, creative approaches to our choices of art and music.” Ars nova literally translates to “new art,” a term reflected in the ensemble’s novel interpretations of the artworks.

Following the first concert in 2015, MU School of Music graduate Nathan Fratzke proposed a venue change to a local church. The acoustics suit a chamber choir, and a smaller venue means the audience will look fuller, something Fratzke wanted for the singers. After a successful trial in 2016, they returned to a church last year.

This year’s theme focuses on promoting women in the arts. Crabb chose MU School of Music graduate student Meaghan Neel to conduct the performance, and she selected the art and songs to collaborate.

“Sometimes I saw art at the museum that was inspirational, and then I tried to find a piece of music that could bring out something special about the artwork or vice versa,” Neel says. This year features a sculpture of Maudelle Bass Weston paired with the song “E Oru O.” Whether the song is meant to bring out something in the visual art or the art is supposed to uncover something special in a song is up to the director.

While searching for inspiration, a particular song stuck out to Neel called “We Are…” by Ysaye M. Barnwell. Once learning that the a cappella group Barnwell performed with for 34 years, Sweet Honey in the Rock, would be performing just two days before the concert, Neel was inspired to pick the arrangement.

“This song became the official title for our concert because the text encompassed the inspiration I felt when putting together this concert,” Neel says.

Once the pieces are chosen, the rigorous process of rehearsing begins. This year’s ensemble has been practicing twice a week for the past two months for the concert and will showcase seven different pieces. 

Whether the song is meant to bring out something in the sculpture or painting or the art is supposed to uncover something unique in a song is up to the director.

The performance is at 7 p.m. on Feb. 27 at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. The event is free and open to the public. 

One of Fratzke’s favorite pieces was a painting called Dido’s Lament, coupled with the song “Tykus Tykus” by Lithuanian composer Vaclovas Augustinas. The painting represents a Greek myth of Dido and Aeneas. After falling in love and planning to get married, Aeneas gets sent off to war. Devastated by the news, Dido dies by suicide. “Tykus Tykus” tells the story about a soldier who comes to a village, falls in love with a young woman and gets sent back out to war. Fratzke describes the painting as beautiful and says he feels it served as a great connecting vehicle for the two art forms.

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