Conversation with writer and hiphop expert Thomas Heerma van Voss

De Groene:
the motown project

Stephan Sanders


You are looking at a performance from our archive

At one time Motown stood for Motor Town, and that stood for Detroit, the city of the automobile industry. But from the late fifties Motown was the legendary record label, which managed to force a breakthrough from black musicians to a white audience. Alicia Hall Moran is a classically trained mezzo-soprano, who makes the Motown sound run with ease from Marvin Gaye to Baroque composer Henry Purcell. The Four Tops had a predecessor: his name was Mozart.

Please note: conversation is in Dutch

background information

The idea for the motown project first emerged during a long intercontinental flight from Europe to the US. The American mezzosoprano Alicia Hall Moran was on her way home after

having given a series of performances with The Bill T. Jones Company. It was 2009, fifty years since the founding of the legendary record label Motown and one of the in-flight radio channels was broadcasting famous Motown songs non-stop. Hall Moran listened for hours to the songs from her childhood, from her parents’ record collection. The songs turned out to be a goldmine for her. The range of the melodies, the language and the male falsetto style all fit her mezzosoprano voice and as a classically trained singer she recognised more and more musical similarities with opera, including the same grand and dramatic themes of love and loss.


Hall Moran describes the research that ensued as a ‘passionate love affair’. She was searching for a balance between the ‘melisma’ in soul and opera, passages of multiple notes sung on a single syllable of text. She interweaves the drama of opera arias with characteristic Motown tunes and creates an upbeat interplay between Marvin Gaye’s lyrics and Purcell’s drama. She starts with an English rendition of Sono Andati, from Puccini’s La Bohème about a love that is as big as the sea, and connects this with Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Equally effortlessly, she merges the chorus of the Four Tops’ I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) into Non So Più Cosa Son, an aria from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro about male helplessness in the face of female charms.


Musicologist Guthrie Ramsey wrote of the première of the motown project in New York’s The Kitchen: “The idea of thinking about Motown recordings as a Schubertian song cycle winding through the stages and associated emotions of a love affair — from declamation, assurance, doubt, disappointment, to anger — was brilliant. Hall Moran managed to draw attention to the poignant poetry of the featured songwriters’


Alicia Hall Moran has received international acclaim for her virtuosity and brilliant song interpretations. She embraces a broad musical repertoire ranging from classical and avant-garde, to jazz and Broadway, and crosses musical boundaries in concerts and partnerships that are renowned for their flair, intelligence and daring.


Her original work is deeply rooted in the traditions of her ancestors as well as her teachers, ranging from Hall Johnson, her great-uncle and legendary choir conductor and conservator of negro spirituals, to the distinguished vocal coaches who taught her, like Shirley Verrett and Adele Addison. At last year’s Holland Festival, she performed in Bryce Dessner’s Triptych, in which she appeared together with Asko|Schönberg. She partners with a constantly changing set of musicians on the motown project. In Amsterdam she will be accompanied by her husband Jason Moran on Fender Rhodes alongside various local musicians playing a range of instruments such as Taiko drums, bamboo flute and electric bass.



Mezzosoprano Alicia Hall Moran is impossible to pigeonhole. She is a singer and composer who effortlessly navigates between diverse disciplines such as opera, jazz, theatre and art. She received her

musical education at Barnard College/Columbia University and the Manhattan School of Music and was taught by major figures in the world of classical music such as Shirley Verrett, Adele Addison, Betty Allen, Hilda Harris and Martina Arroyo.

Alicia Hall Moran has collaborated with acclaimed artists like Carrie Mae Weems, Adam Pendleton, Joan Jonas, Ragnar Kjartansson, Simone Leigh, Liz Magic Laser, curator Okwui Enwezor and choreographer Bill T. Jones, from musicians like Bill Frisell and Charles Lloyd and various writers ranging from Simon Schama to Carl Hancock Rux. For example, as artist-in-residence she curated the five-day performance cycle BLEED together with her husband, pianist Jason Moran, at the Whitney Biennial, featuring a combination of song, dance, poetry, diaries, film and journalism. They also developed work for events such as the Venice Biennale, the Walker Art Center and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall and the Elb Philharmonie in Hamburg. In 2017 they received an Art of Change fellowship from the Ford Foundation.

In addition, she was artist-in-residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and has received commissions from institutes including Art Basel in Miami, the MASSMoCA, Museum of Modern Art, The Kitchen and Histories Remixed/Art Institute Chicago. She has written critically acclaimed works including her first album HEAVY BLUE, the motown project, The Five Fans, Breaking Ice: The Battle of the Carmens, and Black Wall Street. She made her Broadway debut in the Tony Award-winning production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and sang the role of Bess in the subsequent tour.


Podcast maker Stephan Sanders (Haarlem, 1961) is a Dutch writer, journalist, columnist and presenter. He studied Political Science at the University of Amsterdam, worked for a large period as editor of

de Groene Amsterdammer, and lectured at the UvA, the University of Minnesota (USA), the University of Iowa (USA) and the University of Groningen.

Sanders presented radio and television programmes for various broadcasters (VPRO, KRO, Human, NOS/NTR) including Het Blauwe Licht (with Anil Ramdas) and Met het Oog op Morgen. As a columnist he worked for publications such as Vrij Nederland, de Volkskrant, and Trouw. Some of his book titles are: Ai, Jamaica (stories), Buitenwacht (essays) and Iets meer dan een seizoen (memoires).


This performance is made possible with support by