Husband and wife 'U' faculty duo to perform at Kerrytown Concert House

By Laura Kaye, Daily Arts Writer
Published December 9, 2011

A young actress living in the Big Apple was introduced to a classical musician who played ragtime as well. They had immediate chemistry — their hearts beat to the same rhythm and soon afterward, their everlasting partnership was born.

Can't We Be Friends?


Tomorrow at 8 p.m.
Kerrytown Concert House
From $5


William Bolcom and Joan Morris form one of the most celebrated American husband-and-wife musical teams. School of Music, Theatre & Dance Professor Emeritus Bolcom was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for music and the winner of many Grammy awards for his work. He accompanies mezzo-soprano Morris, an MT&D faculty member who has appeared in off-Broadway productions and at various Manhattan venues. Their upcoming recital at Kerrytown Concert House, “Can't We Be Friends?,” is one of many hometown appearances for the Ann Arbor-based duo.

Many of the couple’s recorded albums are centered on a single composer or theme. For this performance, they will showcase many of their most beloved tunes that they never were able to but always wished to record.

Though Bolcom and Morris said they had not yet finalized their playlist, they added that the program will combine various musical genres, including a range of turn-of-the-century pieces as well as a satirical Tom Lehrer Christmas carol.

They discussed a piece by Argentinean songwriter Carlos Gardel that they might perform. Bolcom translated and arranged the cabaret song.

“The song is sort of a dump on political nastiness of the times and the more I think of it, it is the same now — nothing has changed.” Morris sad. “In our song, we replaced the kind of similar people in Gardel’s time in Argentina with Bernie Madoff and Glenn Beck, and the ponzi scheme.”

Cabaret is one of the duo’s signature styles — they will present some French cabaret songs sung by Aristide Bruant, the man who appears sketched in many of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Moulin Rouge posters. Morris explained that relative to other genres, cabaret is more direct, and it has a personal musical style derived from the smoky French cafés in which women would dress in salacious costumes to dance the can-can.

Morris was first an actress and then a singer. As a result, when she picks up a piece of music she not only ponders the meaning of the lyrics, but she also creates miniature plays out of each song to evoke a certain story for the audience.

Contrary to the presence she evokes on stage, Morris said she is actually a very shy person. But being an actress gave her an opportunity to be something else and hide behind an alter ego. This gave her the confidence to go on stage and perform in front of crowds.

“Oscar Wilde once said, ‘If you want a man to tell the truth, give him a mask,’ ” Morris said. “It is not that I become someone else — I find it within myself. It is something I work with in order to figure out how I’m going to tell the story.”

Bolcom said Morris’s experience is similar to a song the duo has recorded, “Tamara, Queen of the Nile.” The song is about a young woman who is a school teacher by day, but go-go dancer by night.

That idea of transformation will be in full effect as these two University faculty members morph into versatile entertainers.