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Spoleto Question-and-Artist: Alicia Hall Moran on 'Two Wings,' working and hugging her kids

'Two Wings'

Jason Moran and Alicia Hall Moran’s “Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration” is part of Spoleto Festival USA 2021. Alicia Hall Moran/Spoleto Festival USA/Provided

Perennial movement has been a constant of the American experience. The chance of a better tomorrow has spurred one generation after another to pull up stakes and seek out the promised land.

In the decades between 1910 and 1970 roughly 6 million African Americans did just that, migrating from the rural South to the Northeast and elsewhere. And wherever they headed, they brought their culture along for the ride. 

The Great Migration, as it came to be known, inspired acclaimed pianist Jason Moran and mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran to co-produce "Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration," a jazz concert enlisting a host to artists to perform alongside them.

After premiering the work at Carnegie Hall in the spring of 2019, the Morans and company traveled, too, performing in famed halls like The Kennedy Center and The Elb in Hamburg.

The work is deeply personal, with stories of the migration journeys of both of the Morans' families. It also folds in spoken word from artists like Langston Hughes. And, most significantly, there is all the music that was so vital to the lives of Black migrants — classical, jazz, Gospel, rhythm and blues, Broadway.

A year after "Two Wings" got underway, the world stopped in its tracks. The Morans were by no means standing still. Alicia Hall Moran, for instance, remained highly productive throughout, performing, teaching and at times just talking. Even so, the Spoleto concert represents a post-pandemic first for her: spending the night away from home.

The Morans will be in good company on their outing, having invited top-notch musicians to join them, as well as a narrator, American filmmaker Julie Dash of the Sea Islands-set "Daughters of the Dust."

Alicia Hall Moran covered impressive ground, too, in response to questions by The Post and Courier. Here are some of her observations.

A lot has happened since "Two Wings" debuted in 2019. Have the events of the past year informed your perspective on the work?

Yes! I think it is impossible to be an artist and feel like your work has not changed at all in these 15 months. How can that be possible? Even if you thought your thing is masterworks from the time of Beethoven, how could you not feel closer to the pressures on Beethoven’s actual life and his personal ideals after the year and a half this world just experienced? The isolation of Bach?! The evolution of the Black Church as a social protector?

History got a whole lot more real for more people. The idea of tyranny got real, and erasure, too. I stayed in New York City for the entire pandemic. I learned a lot. This is my first overnight trip in a year and a half.

Anything you are hoping to do while in Charleston?

Direct the stage as best I can to make good space for my friends. And listen to them.

What are you hoping that audiences discover through "Two Wings"?

I hope they find space for some reflection about how they came to be an audience member! It is a gift to find music and have the space in your life and access to the concept of buying a ticket to a performance.

It doesn’t matter what style of music you like or have been exposed to. The act of ticket-buying is a privilege in itself. Showing up isn’t easy — especially in these times. It takes thought! It takes care!

We have all been through something this year and this concert really represents a journey inside a journey inside now. It’s so deep! I love it. Moving through America, some forces pushing, some forces pulling. Wow.

Tell us what you’ve been up to during the past year of the pandemic.

I’ve been working. Music may have stopped but the need for music never stopped, so I found that I really enjoyed responding to those needs in audiences, and in myself. It’s an urge.

On tough days that included getting dressed up in my home and performing for an online funeral. On happy days it meant adorning my eyes with false lashes and a face full of makeup to celebrate repertoire that I love, like Motown or American art song or new opera, or even my own songs, for online festivals, galas and concerts.

But as we moved deeper into the pandemic, the invitations became live happenings for film at enormous venues like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, making music for dances designed by Lee Mingwei and Bill T. Jones, or recording my own compositions alone in a theater with flutist Allison Loggins-Hull and pianist Kris Davis!

More recently I moved into being invited to sing at really spacious indoor venues for a live audience like Kelsey Lu’s at The Shed, or a film shoot with some incredible artists for an upcoming project. I did dozens of live talks and panels, seems like, as everything went online ... People just talking talking talkin’!

I had the miraculous privilege of coaching chamber musicians all year at Frost School of Music as their first artist resident in Chamber Music! We talked about all those things that relate to their presence—visual and spiritual and intellectual—in their music. They are doing amazing things down in Miami. 

Any “silver lining” epiphanies of late?

I oddly realized that much of my lifestyle and life choices were already adjusted to life in this pandemic and cultural mode. It’s not a greater or lesser thing, it’s just an observation.

Regarding the future: On a scale of 1 to 10 — with one being "pessimistic" and 10 being "optimistic" — where do you find yourself?

Honestly, I probably am in the camp that we are not really in control of all this so I just tend to my garden every day. Hug my children. Try to do something better, or pick myself up. Celebrate something small. Impress myself in an email, lol! (I enjoy writing.) Try to remember to call someone back, and do my job. 

Follow Maura Hogan on Twitter at @msmaurahogan.

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