The Voices In My Head (2017)

The Voices in My Head is an adaptation of a Jack Handey story that originally appeared in The New Yorker. It’s a monologue by a guy hearing voices, but—spoiler alert—the voices are just the ordinary thoughts that everyone has with a few unusual thoughts sprinkled in. The character is a lovable idiot. He’s petty, mean, and dumb yet also friendly and full of wonder.

I was on vacation in Fire Island when I thought of the adaptation and music, so I felt a little more relaxed and happier than normal. I imagined the story taking place in a Tiki bar. The story had only one character, but I wanted more so I expanded the scene to four people: three chorus members who personify the “voices” plus the narrator. To keep things interesting, a different singer portrays the narrator every couple of minutes. When not playing the narrator, the singer is part of the chorus. The audience always knows who the narrator is because the singer portraying him dons a Hawaiian shirt, piano-key neck tie, and foam cowboy hat. The members of the chorus wear dual-beer can novelty hats while they dance in a conga line, compete in a limbo contest, and hula-hoop. None of these actions or articles of clothing were in Handey’s story, but they felt true to his style.

Handey’s story evoked mid-century exotica to my mind, stuff like Yma Sumac, Les Baxter, and Esquivel. I didn’t want to go whole hog with Exotica but the more I imagined it I settled on Cuban rhythms, Hawaiian steel guitar, and Honky-Tonk. This felt like a nice combo of New World sounds. I composed the piece in reverse son clave. I wrote some Hawaiian inspired licks which I play on pedal steel and the pianist doubles on ukulele. The Country yodel cadence made popular by Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams—which is the kind of decorated 3-2-1 pattern that Schenkarians love to analyze—inspired much of the melodic material.

There’s also some Funk and Minimalism in the music, but that wasn’t inspired by the story: it’s just what I do, I can’t get away from it. In the final section the pianist tosses ping-pong balls into the piano, not only for its unique sound, but because it’s the kind of experimental wildness that brings to life the anarchic humor of the story.

The Voices In My Head was commissioned by Symphony Space. It premiered in New York City at Symphony Space May 5-6, 2017.

Music by Jason Cady
Libretto by Jason Cady, based on a story by Jack Handey

Elyse Kakacek, soprano
Kate Maroney, mezzo-soprano
Timothy Stoddard, tenor
Eric McKeever, baritone
Mila Henry, piano and ukulele
Domenica Fossati, flute
Joe Bergen, percussion
Meaghan Burke, cello
Shawn Lovato, contrabass
Jason Cady, modular synth and pedal steel guitar
David Bloom, conductor

Rob Reese, director
Casey Alexander Smith, stage design
Fay Eva, costume designer
Esti Bernstein, production stage manager
Perri Di Christina, production assistant

"Jason Cady, Aaron Siegel, Matthew Welch, Miguel Frasconi, Cristina Lord, and Nicole Murphy all provided engaging, thoughtful, and playful works. The strongest pieces for me were the last two. The Einstein on the Beach/Philip Glass style music (which had a storyline about school was musically strong), and the final piece (with its gigantic cowboy hats and silly story about the voices in their head), also sort of met her commentary, with back up of other singers. It was hilarious and surprising and silly and downright enjoyable."

— Amanda Boekelheide, The Theater Times

"Wrapping up the night on a high note was Cady’s Voices in My Head. Set in a Tiki bar, this came out of the writing of Jack Handey; surreal craziness and hilarity in other words. With all the singers gleefully dancing and taking turns leading through the rumba-like music, the character followed one’s normal internal dialogue as if it were a gaggle of psychotic voices.

Sporting tropical vacation wear and beer drinking helmets, the ensemble sang lines like “Brush your teeth / Eat some more / Why did you brush your teeth?” Cady’s setting was terrific and neatly tied off, and if it wasn’t strictly an opera, it was damn funny."

— George Grella, New York Classical Review

"The evening concluded with Jason Cady's The Voices in My Head, in which a drunken bar-goer worries that he’s hearing voices in his head, but rather than psychosis, it turns out that he is simply narrating his many conflicting, confused, and altogether jumbled thoughts inhabiting his mind. The entire ensemble joins in for this pop-infused dance party donning boxers and beer helmets. In addition to excellent musicianship, the singers displayed their (rather impressive) hula hoop skills and left the audience with a bit of levity. Who says that opera can’t be pure fun?"

— Lauren Alfano, I Care If You Listen