A local Whitehorse book group, inspired by the epic poem Beowulf, have composed songs that will be performed on August 13. Keitha Clark, Kate Weekes and Brenda Berezan originally joked about the idea of writing songs based on the poem, but then one evening, after meeting to discuss what they’d read, they found themselves all returning home and creating some new music. The end result will be the songs they play at the event.
“The songs are inspired by the book,” Clark said. “The songs are about what engaged us and connected us to the text.”
“It is really art begetting art,” Berezan added. “One day we each went home and wrote a piece.”
As one of the earliest examples of literature in Old English, the poem, written by an unknown author, remains one of the most important compositions in English literature, or at least from what I can recall from the medieval literature class I took back at university. However, the women involved confirmed that assessment, based on their project. In fact, that importance provided the three women the inspiration to first start reading Beowulf.
“I’d never read it and I have an English degree,” Berezan said. “It kept coming up and I knew I needed to read it.”
Weeks agreed with that assessment of filling in a gap in her reading. “I was taking an English course at the Yukon College and was told how important [Beowulf] is,” Weekes explained. “But we never read it.”
The concert is an extension of what the women are trying to do with their readings. They want to engage the community with literature and help expose residents to different texts.
“It’s finding ways to connect important pieces of literature to your community,” Clark explained. “This concert is really a space for your inner Beowulf geek to come out.”
Interestingly, the three women have taken different concepts from the poem for their compositions. Weekes used a translation by J.R.R. Tolkien, while Clark and Berezan used a translation by Seamus Heaney and they discovered the variances that can occur between translations.
“It’s interesting to see the differences in our creative responses,” Clark said. “It’s interesting to see the difference and importance of who is doing the translation. They can be very, very different.”
Weekes found herself drawn to the idea of the Geats, described as the “wind-loving Geats” in the text. She was travelling Scandinavia while reading the poem and was able to explore Denmark, Sweden and Norway while comparing it to the descriptions of the tribes and historical events. It also provided opportunities for her to visualize the images of the seafaring Geats travelling across the ocean.
“I was really driven by the question of what happened to the Geats,” Weekes explained. “In Oslo, I went to a Viking museum and saw the longboats there.
“It was what we’d been reading about and was cool to see and envision.”
The fundraiser is open to everyone and attendees can pay at the door. The songwriters will be joined by guest readers Jan Stick, Roy Ness and Jonathan Driscoll. For more information, visit their FB event, Beowulf, an evening of songs and readings, or call Well Read Books at 393-2987.
“We hope you come to the concert and will be inspired,” Clark said.