Here's How To Really Sing The Blues At Tax Time

T.S. Eliot may not have had income tax in mind when he called April "the cruelest month," but the rest of us experience an unpleasant little IRS-related jolt whenever we turn the calendar over to this fourth month of the year.

The only thing as certain as death and taxes is that somebody is going to create art about both of them. Death has always been by far the more interesting of the two subjects, however; it's hard to wax rhapsodic about W-2 forms and deductions.

That's why we should give special attention to a new music-theater CD from the CRI label (that's Composer's Recordings Inc., not "cry," another term associated with tax time). Composer/librettist Ben Yarmolinsky is just the guy to set a 1040 form to music: among his previous works are "The Bill of Rights: A Secular Oratorio," "Amendments: A Constitutional Cantata" and "Anita," a docu-drama based on the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings in the Senate.

Yarmolinsky probably is gathering his strength, as you read this, for "Monica: The Impeachment Operetta." But in the meantime, we all can savor his 12 short scenes in "April 15th Blues," in which Jane Q. Public (sung by Elaine Valby) is driven to consult her ex-boyfriend and tax accountant Jeremy Cohen (Randall Scarlata) about the mysteries of last-minute tax returns.

Like many of us, Jane has waited until the April 15 deadline before beginning to fill out her 1040 form. As she does so, answering questions posed by a computer-synthesized voice representing the IRS, we find out about her life as a singer, actress, dancer and occasional failed law-office typist. Much of her income is unreported (as we hear in the song "Under the Table Tango"), and most of it has already been spent, not always wisely.

As Jeremy offers his advice ("Deduct! Deduct! Deduct!"), Jane is wooed back into his arms - possibly the first musical representation of a tax accountant as hero. Personally, I'm not so sure about Jeremy's advice, which is to deduct a staggering array of expenses, and then hope that nobody at the IRS decides to question them. Isn't that procedure supposed to be a red flag for a potential audit?

But we digress. Yarmolinsky is following in the musical footsteps of composer Avery Claflin (1898-1979), who composed a three-minute choral setting of the 1040 tax form as "Lament for April 15th." That piece, an annual favorite on classical radio stations around the country, was recorded in 1955, also for the CRI label, but has been sufficiently outdated for CRI to commission the new Yarmolinsky "April 15th Blues."

Like many music-theater pieces, this one has a happy ending. Jane and Jeremy are reunited, to the accompaniment of a four-piece instrumental ensemble, in the romantic setting of "The Post Office at Midnight." May they, and we, never experience the sequel: "The IRS Auditing Blues."