Waiting for the Beast to Die

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Instruments: Horn, Alto Singer (can be one player)

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Waiting for the beast to die

Short programm note:

Traditionally, the princess ‘waits’ to be happily married with the prince who slayed ‘the beast’. But young women locked up develop eating disorders and men send to kill suffer from PTSS. A troubadour tells their story, with instrumental reflections in between. Their last sigh of lost hope sounds.

Premiere with introduction: 

About the piece

I have a friend who knows a lot about archetypes, she asked me: who would you be? The King, Queen, princess, prince, witch, sorcerrer or dragon? But I didn’t want to be any of those archetypes. Traditionally, the princess ‘waits’ to be happily married and the dapper prince ‘fights evil’ with a sword. But:

A young woman locked up in a palace, wouldn’t she develop an eating disorder?

A man who is told to haunt and kill the Beast, wouldn’t he suffer from PTSS?

No, I would rather be the librarian in those stories.

In this song I combined a more mediaval troubadour, with modern harmonic reflections on the story told. To express the old fashioned story in contrast to the modern reflection on it.

At first the reflection is optimistic, almost naive, but the story tells differently. The second reflection brings us the hope of another character? But after those characters failed to fit their traditional archetypic roles, the reflection is of some-one who saw evil and lost hope.

These reflections are all around us, when we see women fighting for their rights to walk the streets freely and men fleeing the country to avoid military service. We have to prevent them from ending up like the characters in this song.

The real story doesn’t have to end with a hopeless sigh.


How a song can help recreate society

While working on a song with a lot of Spanish dishes called Friturologie I came up with the name Juan Tapas. I thought about this Spanish Prince and how he might sail the oceans and resque a princes from a dragon. His story was supposed to be told by a male troubadour with a lever harp. I tried to write lyrics with a traditional story line. But in the end of my song, the prince had turned into a pirate. And the princess didn’t want a handicapped veteran with PTSS for a husband. And rightfully so.

But then I started to learn conducting. I have a wonderful private teacher, but at a summer school I was picked upon, made fun of and critiqued in a strange harsh way. It didn’t happen to the male participants, they were encouraged and kindly corrected. Young women felt discouraged and stopped going. I did too.

Something was happening here…..

Next year there was another teacher. This was a good teacher, well prepared too. Then he started an exercise with a song and he remarked: “I used to hear only basses and tenors with this song, but now I have only sopranos and altos.”

That was what had been happening there….

Women were taking their rightfully deserved positions.

At home, Juan Tapas had been waiting for a long, long time. I went back to my traditional idea for Juan Tapas, now it looked pale and primitive to me. I thought about changing the perspective, this story must be told by the mothers involved. We must give women a voice in this composition. I did that, I let the mothers ‘speak’. I wrote a lot of laments: How they lost their children: a daughter who was send to a dragon and a son, who was send out to slay that dragon. If only their children could have stayed safe? But changing the perspective, though helpful, didn’t change the narrative that a princess should be a good girls and wait for a prince to settle with.

Then, I found the drawings for the original idea again. I noticed that I had been missing the point of this particular drawing. I looked at it in my studio for a long, long time. Pondering, wondering: “Which character is the beast?”

Waiting for the Beast to Die, drawing by I. Boie.

The drawing anwered my deep dissatisfaction with the story told in my songs: nobody questioned the idea of a dragon being a beast. But this drawing shows you how difficult it is to answer honestly who the beast is in this drawing.

The princess is waiting for the beast to die, but which beast? It’s this question that connects with my own personal question, how people become beasts. When a mother stands by while a father sends their son to slay a dragon and he does what has been expected by his parents. When a mother stands by while a father sends their daughter to stay with a dragon and the women do what has been expected? Do we sustain beasts by being a silent majority?

Who are the beasts? Who becomes a beast? Who is thought of as a beast, but is only a dragon?

Maybe people create beasts by expecting characters to be masculin, emotionless, competitive. Or to be a ‘good girl’? By expecting them to step into the designed spots for their class, character and gender.

In the mean time, a lot of productions got a more ‘women friendly’ nature. I watched the new version of Alladin, with a superficial female-friendly layer added. But that is not what I wanted to do, I didn’t want a female friendly layer added, nor only a female perspective. I wanted to show a filosophical or maybe phychological pattern in our society, maybe in mankind. That all humans can turn into beasts, even parents, who stood by silently, while their children were send to their destiny. In the eyes of their children, who is the beast?

That is also what I wanted to do while conducting: I wanted to explore the meaning of the music played, not be a musical tirant pressing my answer onto peoples musical minds. No, I want to ask the questions behind the music. I want to wonder with musicians: Why the two faced music of Tsjaikovski’s 5th? How can we tell his story behind the music by playing a detailed interpretation?

Changing a perspective, does change a story, but it doesn’t change the narrative. You can hear Tsjaikovski’s double personality, his honest personal struggles, but not in the laste movement. There, he does what was expected by society. And what does that sound like?

What we need in music, is a new narrative for composition, interpretation and conducting. A lot of people aren’t heard, aren’t even listened for. I think it’s time to change that by starting to listen for the honest stories behind all music. Some music will fall flat, when we try to do that. But personally, I need a new Why (play Tsjaikovski?) to motivate change around me. A Why? that helps me make all people be heard.