Since the age of four when he sang “Away in a Manger” at a Christmas Eve church service, Andrew Morgan’s life has revolved around music.
Encouraged by his mother and father, a high school band director, Morgan took piano lessons and, at age 8, he joined the Madison Boychoir.
“After that, I never looked back. It was always music,” said Morgan, a Wisconsin native and Green Bay Packers fan. “Choir as a community really unites students, and I’ve always been honored to be part of that as a singer and a choral conductor.”
Morgan is the new Hendrix College choral conductor, replacing Nancy Fleming, who retired in the spring.
“In high school I knew I wanted to be a choral conductor,” said Morgan, who earned his bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2003.
In addition to the university’s diverse musical traditions and unique musical opportunities, he enjoyed a breadth of academic courses, from the physics of acoustics and light to Portuguese language. One of his favorite non-choir classes was Plants and Man, a botany class that examined the evolutionary history of human and plant systems.
“That class really threw me for a loop in the best way possible,” he said.
His broad education enabled him to better find the connections between music and other disciplines.
“At that time, I realized I was very interested in music history and the music of the Renaissance and Baroque era, which still inspires me greatly today,” said Morgan, whose interests were nurtured by his voice teacher, Paul Rowe.
After college, Morgan taught general elementary music in public schools in Madison and Chicago for three years before beginning his graduate work at Temple University.
“Professionally it opened my mind more and really helped me mature,” he said. “I wasn’t a veteran by that time, but I felt I had a better sense of myself before I went to graduate school.”
In addition to the strong reputation of its choral conducting program, led by Professor Alan Harler, Morgan chose Temple because he had met a group of Philadelphia musicians who shared his interests in early music.
At the time, Temple choral conducting students also taught music theory, enabling Morgan to get a lot of teaching experience in both the choral and theory programs. He also studied more music history at Temple and opted for another year of graduate school to add music history as a second major.
After Temple, Morgan moved back to Chicago to be closer to his (now) wife, Julia, whose background is in nonprofit theatre marketing, and to work with the Chicago Children’s Choir. After two years in Chicago, he enrolled in the choral conducting program at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, which admits one doctoral student per year. He chose the program for its small size, emphasis on engagement and creativity, and excellent teaching opportunities.
“I knew teaching college was really my goal, and I needed to complete my doctoral work,” he said.
For three years, Morgan led Campus Singers Gold, a student choir with 75 members, selecting music, collaborating with other faculty, planning concerts, and recruiting students.
“By the second year, I felt like there was a benevolent conspiracy among the faculty that challenged me to understand myself better in my conducting and course work,” he said.
His advisor Professor Kathy Romey, the university’s director of choral activities, was the first mentor to suggest that a liberal arts college like Hendrix might be the best match for Morgan.
“She knew that creativity, interdisciplinary learning and teaching – all things you see at a school like Hendrix – were very important to me,” he said. “But to be honest, I was a bit surprised. All of my schooling had been in big universities. I’ve always been a big school guy. I could understand her, but, at the same time, it was very surprising.”
For his doctoral research, Morgan completed a case study on his final doctoral conducting recital, which examined interdisciplinary arts collaboration and audience engagement.
“Sometimes audiences perceive the arts as elitist or out of touch,” he explained. “Our job is to be creative in ways we share the arts with our audience.”
With colleagues in art and theatre, Morgan designed a hybrid performance of choral music, devised theatre, and multimedia components. At the beginning of the recital, audience members wrote memories of loved ones from their past, which were collected and projected as a slideshow during the final piece.
“It was very stimulating,” he said. “That sort of project is possible at schools like Hendrix where collaboration is really encouraged and central to the mission of the school.”
Morgan begins his tenure at Hendrix during a very auspicious year – the 50th anniversary of the Hendrix College Choir’s storied Candlelight Carol Services. This year’s services will be Thursday, Dec. 4 through Sunday, Dec. 7 on campus. There will also be special tour performances on Thursday, Dec. 18 at Central United Methodist Church in Fayetteville and on Friday, Dec. 19 at St. James United Methodist Church in Little Rock.
“I feel very fortunate to have inherited such a wonderful program,” he said. “I want to honor and continue that.”
For the 50th anniversary services, Morgan anticipates integrating past and present by involving alumni in the service’s lesson readings. In the future, Morgan would like to commission new choral pieces and perhaps inaugurate an annual composition competition.
“I think we can take a tradition that is storied with meaning and value to students and alumni, and honor its heritage while looking toward the future,” he said. “I’m really passionate about keeping classical music alive by performing works by living composers. Students benefit from doing new music. It’s a hugely important experience for students to work on new music that could become part of the standard choral repertoire one day.”
Morgan would also like for the Hendrix Choir to be involved with other choral ensembles off campus through performance, collaborations and outreach projects. He also sees an opportunity for a second non-audition choral group on campus one day.
“I also want alumni to say hello on campus and at events,” he said, adding that he is looking forward to many new experiences with Hendrix students, who are talented, inquisitive, and highly engaged in their education.
Morgan and his wife, Julia, live in Conway with their two sons Henry, 2, and Oliver, who was born three months ago.