Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes “After the Ball”

Year of the Song

As I’ve mentioned in previous Dr. Bob Prescribes posts, I’ve unilaterally designated this campaign and election year “The Year of the Song,” so desperate am I for the distraction and solace only the best popular American songs can provide. We began with Barbara Cook’s wonderful Disney Album on February 6, and my intention is to do at least one such popular American song-oriented Dr. Bob Prescribes post every month until January 2025.

Joan Morris and William Bolcom at New York City’s Town Hall, 1985
Joan Morris and William Bolcom at New York City’s Town Hall, 1985

Today’s post is as much about introducing you to two very special performers as it is hawking their first album, After the Ball, of 1974. They are the mezzo-soprano Joan Morris (born 1943), and her husband, the composer and pianist William Bolcom (born 1938). I will be prescribing no small number of their albums over the course of this year, so I figure we should get to know them a bit before all of these prescriptions commence.

Smarter Than the Average Boor

I have, if you’ll pardon me, always been a bit smarter than the average boor.

For example.

It was in either late 1978 or early 1979. I remember the date because I had just come to California for graduate school, and was living in an apartment in North Berkeley with an old undergraduate friend and fellow composition graduate student named Eric Moe.

The album
The album

On a recommendation, I had just bought what was then a newly issued LP of George Gershwin songs performed by the mezzo-soprano Joan Morris and her husband, the composer and pianist William Bolcom. I didn’t know who Morris and Bolcom were at the time, but once I heard their Gershwin album, my enthusiasm for them knew no bounds: the clarity of Morris’ voice and Bolcom’s wonderful and idiomatic pianism completely bowled me over. In my excitement over the album, I played it for my roommate Eric and his girlfriend, who was also a fellow composition grad student. (FYI: I’ve always been a disc jockey at heart, ready to play a recording at the drop of a needle.)

The name of Eric’s girlfriend (and, unfortunately, his future wife, though gratefully not for very long) will go unspoken, because she was – putting it most charitably – a boor. All-too-predictably, she sat there, drinking my coffee, chain-smoking her stinking cigarettes, finding fault after fault with Joan Morris’ voice. “Her tone is thin . . . her vibrato is too wide . . . her upper notes are strained . . .” blah, blah, blah.

Like I said, a freakin’ boor.

Continue reading only on Patreon!

Become a Patron!