The Tree of Life, a universal symbol of man's immortality, is the first and last image seen in the story of Ragnarok or the doomsday story from Norse mythology as depicted in "Twilight of the Gods."
The Bemidji State University Wind Ensemble will premiere this multi-media band composition a collaborative effort of Erik Evensen, an adjunct instructor in BSU's Design Technology Program, composer Andrew Boysen Jr, music professor at the University of New Hampshire, and Erika Svanoe, director of bands at BSU. A regional premiere of this piece will occur during the Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band Concert at 3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 24, in Thompson Recital Hall of Bangsberg Fine and Performing Arts Complex on the campus of BSU, Birchmont Drive and 14th Street.
The genesis of the project is a 13 year old teen who drew pencil sketches of characters from Norse mythology, and the publication, almost 13 years later, of a graphic novel (a feature-length comic book), "Gods of Asgard," in 2007.
"Norse mythology exists and is in the public domain because it is a thousand years old and has no author per se," said Evensen, "There is a Thor comic book which puts Thor as a superhero, but I thought it would be great to actually take the stories from mythology and put them into a graphic novel format and that was "Gods of Asgard."
In August 2009, three friends, Erika Svanoe, her husband, Evensen, and Boysen, were together in New Hampshire. Boysen had previously been given a copy of "Gods of Asgard" and asked if the group would be interested in doing a multi-media band composition.
"Boysen asked if we would collaborate with him, and all of a sudden, a commissioning consortium came together that was interested in the project. It was amazing timing," said Svanoe. "Bemidji State paid a fee to be involved with the commissioning of this piece, so we have exclusive rights, with about 30 other schools, to perform this piece this year. There are two other Minnesota schools in the consortium, Concordia and University of Minnesota Mankato."
The three young artists - composer, graphic artist and band director - all felt a kinship to Norse mythology as they all are of Norse descent, Danish and Norwegian. It is expensive to commission a new piece, so most of the new literature is done this way through a consortium or collaborative effort. The University of Nevada in Reno spearheaded this consortium and was the first group to premiere the finished piece in March of this year.
"The effects are hand illustrations (pencil and paper) which I scanned into the computer; the colors and lighting effects are digital," said Evensen. "I opened them up in a program called Adobe Photoshop and digitally painted them. I do enough illustration work that it is comfortable for me. From that I assembled the still images so that they move and progress like an animation and then put them into a film editing program like Adobe Premier, a movie editing software. The piece is around nine minutes long."
The video starts in a Viking village. The harsh winter turns people against each other; a family fights over the last scrap of food in the home. A war begins, and the creatures from Midgard (middle earth) like trolls, seen as being extensions of nature, arise from the muck. Heindall, the watchman of the entrance to Asgard, the village of the gods, sees Loki's ship approaching. Loki is a crafty and malicious figure in dark side of nature. Odin, the chieftain of the gods, rallies the troops and calls them to arms by way of his messengers, the Valkyries. The light from the Valkyries' armor is said to cause the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, according to legend. Thor, the god of thunder and champion of mankind, because he is the son of earth, leads the battle of the gods against the chaotic forces of nature. And you will need to go to the concert on Sunday to see and hear the rest of the story.
"We were very drawn to the idea of rebirth as a theme for this piece," said Evensen. "Everything falls apart, but the world is reborn at the end with hope for a better future."
Boysen's musical composition is mirrored at the beginning and end by a visual of the Tree of Life, a central symbol of hope for the future present in many religious traditions. The program for the concert will also include selections from "Lord of the Rings Symphony No. 1" by Johan De Meij. (Tolkien used the Midgard or "middle earth" myth in his Lord of the Rings series.) Alsdo on the program are "October" by Eric Whitacre, "March of the Trolls" by Edvard Grieg and "Valdres" by Johannes Hanssen. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and free for all students and may be purchased at the door.