Soprano and Piano
Text: Poem by Jane Shore
Duration: ca. 3.5 minutes
Publisher: Margun Music, Inc. (MP1065, available from Shawnee Press)
At the center of Beverly Morgan’s song recital Monday at Merkin Concert Hall came a brilliant theatrical success with Northeast Reservation Lines, commissioned for the occasion from the composer Hayes Biggs. The text, by Jane Shore, is one of those recorded messages asking the caller to wait for the next available agent, repeated three times ‘straight’ and then four times with mounting, hilarious perversion.
Miss Morgan…gave the exposition not in the vapid tones one hears over the line, but rather as one speaks along with them through clenched teeth, seething. As the telling imagery of the distorted repetitions progressed she made every word clear (no small achievement, and one of which she was so rightly confident that she didn’t have the text distributed with the program). The hall erupted in laughter at every line.
The deadpan manner was suited to the wry comedy of the scena Northeast Reservation Lines, which was given its first performance. It is a setting of verses by Jane Shore that begin ‘Northeast Reservation Lines are busy. As soon as an agent becomes available we will connect you’ and move into increasingly surrealistic variations as that message returns, returns, returns.
The Biggs song, Northeast Reservation Lines, is a real party piece. The text is Jane Shore’s poem of the same title, a wackily Joycean prank that gradually transforms a recorded airline message into some naughty utterances. The fact that the original message must be repeated obliges musical repetition as well, but by the fourth time around, as the words start to change, so does the quirkily chromatic music. To give you an idea how the verbal land lies, and a hint at what happens to the music, consider the three lines in the first and last stanzas: From ‘Northeast Reservation Lines are busy. As soon as an agent becomes available we will connect you’ to ‘Northeast Masturbation Lions are itchy. As soon as an urchin becomes inflatable we will infect you.’ It reads sophomoric this way, but the sneakiness of the changes, the liveliness of the music and the verve of the performance worked handily. No masterpiece, but a potential recital hit (who just said ‘rectal’?) in the vein of Bernstein’s I Hate Music cycle.