“The Next Table Over” is a fantasy on a scene that I have experienced many times: a half-heard conversation taking place among a group of friends at another table in a restaurant or tea shop. The piece is dedicated to Bill Waddington of The Tea Source of Saint Paul, Minnesota; my favorite fragrant, well-lighted place to spend an afternoon.
Because of the abstract nature of the text, I don’t want to insist on a specific story line; I’d rather the performers develop their own ideas about content and progression of the conversation. However, here are some ideas that I followed while writing the piece. Use them as a starting point:
mm. 1-5 The door opens on a chaotic wash of conversational buzz that
gradually resolves itself into intelligibility.
mm. 6-16 Alto tells a story; the rest respond encouragingly.
mm. 29-33 Alto and soprano begin a side conversation; tenor breaks in;
soprano and alto snicker at him behind their hands.
mm. 34-38 The subject changes; alto and tenor recall some shared experience...
mm. 38-42 ...which inspires some wistful memory for soprano; alto commiserates.
mm. 43-53 Tenor begins telling the story that alto told at the beginning, having
forgotten that everyone has heard it already. The others’ attention
wanders: soprano and alto sigh, bass pontificates.
mm. 54-56 Finally, frustrated by his friends’ lack of attention, tenor claps his hands
to bring them back, at which point the alto, joined by everyone else,
steps on his punchline.
mm. 62-84 Soprano has something serious to relate, which makes her a bit weepy.
mm. 85-94 Bass offers sound avuncular advice that comforts soprano. He ends
his speech with a wry joke which breaks the tension.
mm. 112-end Conversation dissolves to a murmur as listener leaves shop.