Photograph © Phumzile Sojola
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess; at far right is Alicia Hall Moran.
Vocalizing has always been an important part of Alicia Hall Moran’s self-expression. As a newborn in the maternity ward, Moran was known as “Lungs.” As a child, she enjoyed performing concerts and musicals for her family. As a Barnard student, Moran majored in music. Now a seasoned mezzo-soprano, she recently completed a run on Broadway in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Why did she pursue music as her art form? Without question, she says, music chose her.
An opportunity in high school took Moran’s musical education to the next level, when she applied and was accepted to the summer Tanglewood Institute. It was also in high school that Moran decided she wanted to attend the best college in New York City, one where her intellect would be taken seriously. Barnard was the obvious choice. “I didn’t understand it then, but Barnard gave me an ability to question anything and everything with freedom and responsibility,” she says. “You need to know how to do that to sustain yourself as a woman, as an artist, as a mother, as a citizen.” Moran majored in music with a concentration in anthropology. After Barnard, she attended the Manhattan School of Music (MSM) where she earned a bachelor’s in music; Lynn Owen, her Barnard voice teacher who also taught at MSM, helped Moran get admitted. Because she had already received a full education in theory and music history at Barnard, Moran took courses at MSM in such areas as composition, acting, and dance.
This comprehensive training is evident in her résumé, which lists a range of creative endeavors from the traditional to the experimental. In addition to The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, Moran was a 2012 Biennial Artist at the Whitney Museum of American Art, curating and performing BLEED, a five-day music and arts festival that surveyed the musical landscape of Moran and her husband, Jason, an accomplished musician and the artistic advisor for jazz at The Kennedy Center. The event brought together artists, practitioners, and ideas that have been key to the couple’s thoughts about music. “It was time to turn the private partnership inside out and let the art world see inside our mechanism,” says Moran.
She planned much of BLEED while living in Cambridge, Mass., working on the The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess premiere while her husband was in New York City. Moran found herself shaping many of the project’s ideas, including its title. “Then it hit me,” she says. “My dream had come true. I was planning a major spectacle for an American art museum. I could do whatever I wanted.” The performances of BLEED blended genres, formats, and media and took on a number of themes. Moran would perform two or three concerts at BLEED then jump into a cab to make curtain for her Broadway performances. “It was truly the most invigorating week of my artistic life,” she says.
It was through another project that Moran was first considered for The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. She was performing in Alicia Hall Moran + the motown project, an operatic cabaret featuring Japanese taiko drums, harp, guitar, and bass, with Motown songs sung in operatic style performed at the prestigious Regattabar, a jazz club in Cambridge, among other venues. Producer Diane Borger, with Harvard’s American Repertory Theater, learned of Moran’s performance, met her after a show, and sent her name to the casting agency; several months later, she auditioned for and was quickly offered the part of Ensemble/Bess Understudy.
Collaboration, which she uses as a means of exploration to enhance her artistic growth, is evident in much of Moran’s work. Moran is currently the musical director on visual artist Adam Pendleton’s opera in development for Performa 13, a biennial of new visual-art performance. Moran enjoys working alone as well. “Art is solitary and I love that,” she says. Moran spends a lot of time each day speaking and writing. Does she have a dream role? “Michelle Obama,” she says, “but I don’t think it’s been written yet.”