Tara Bahna-James after Waldemar Bonsels' Die Biene Maja (1912)
Also arranged for piano + narrator.
from the Ottawa Youth Orchestra premiere
Conrad the Beetle
The Hornets' Nest
The Hornet Attack
Synopsis & Notes
Maya the Bee begins with Maya's first moments of life in a busy beehive. Shortly after Maya is born, her teacher, Cassandra, explains the importance of gathering honey and of doing as one is told. Moved by Maya's innocence, Cassandra also tells the young bee about the wonders and dangers that await her in the world outside. These include beetles, spiders, hornets, the wind, and the white-throated sparrow, whose purportedly beautiful song Cassandra has only ever dreamed of hearing.
On her first flight, Maya is so delighted by the world around her and by the gentle breeze at her side, that she ignores Cassandra's orders and flies out into the wilderness, choosing a life of exile. When the wind increases, Maya pauses to rest on a tree branch where she befriends a jovial beetle. But then a predatory sparrow perches on a nearby branch and frightens the beetle off, cutting their encounter short. When the wind subsides, Maya flies over a pristine pond, where she delights in seeing her reflection and in the sun shimmering on the water. But just as she passes over land once more, Maya becomes entangled in the web of a menacing spider who threatens to eat her.
Luckily, the sparrow returns to eat the spider and, failing to see Maya, flies off. Maya is then discovered by her beetle friend who proceeds to free her from the spider's web. But this time, the beetle is not so careful, and the sparrow, who returns once more, eats the beetle whole, right in front of Maya.
Already devastated by the cruelty of nature, Maya is then taken prisoner by a hornet who takes her back to his colony where Maya learns that the hornets are planning a massive attack on the hive Maya was born into.
Defenseless and dejected, Maya is mourning her fate and the certain fate of others in her hive, when suddenly on the wind she hears the hauntingly beautiful song of the white-throated sparrow and is overcome with inexplicable joy. Maya forgets her renunciation of the world, escapes the hornet's nest and, aided by a fierce wind, makes her way back to the hive to warn the others about the plot of the hornets.
Having been forewarned, the bees are able to put up a fierce battle and repel the hornets. Maya, once an exile for her disobedience, is now praised as the bee colony's champion and greatest sage.
Although not particularly well known in North America, Maya the Bee is a popular character with children in many other parts of the world. She is the creation of German author Waldemar Bonsels, who published The Adventures of Maya the Bee in 1912.
Not unlike Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince in scope, Bonsel's original is clearly intended for children, and yet, is poetic and philosophically dense enough to remain poignant for adults. It depicts a world in which beetles fall in love with crickets, ants sing about their own mortality, and creatures bite the heads off of one another in one moment and say something wonderfully intelligent and sympathetic in the next. In this world, beauty and mortality live side by side without question or contradiction.
While earlier adaptations have focused primarily on preserving Bonsel's plot or the bravery and enthusiasm of little Maya herself, Tara Bahna-James' adaptation differs in that it attempts to retain the complexity of Bonsel's themes. To achieve this with concision, Bahna-James has condensed Bonsel's original story line significantly and introduced the character of the capricious wind. The result aspires to be an enchanting children's story, one that needs no further explanation for little ones, and yet, for others, invites further reflection and discussion.
In the score, inspired by Prokofiev's classic Peter & the Wolf, each character is associated with a distinct theme and instrument (or instruments). Maya is played by the strings, Cassandra by the oboe, Conrad by two bassoons, the spider by two flutes, the sparrow by the piccolo, and the hornets by the trombones and tuba. The capricious wind, the only character not in Bonsels' original, is played by the clarinet. These themes, once introduced, are taken up by other instruments and variously combined to tell the story in music.
Tara Bahna-James is a Brooklyn, NY, playwright, performer, educator and essayist. As a bookwriter-lyricist, she has co-authored six musicals, including The Bear and the Moon, Eleanora, The Longest Night, Mother of Lies, The Uses of Enchantment, and Emmy & Albert and her shows and songs have been performed at theatres and festivals across the United States. Tara received her BA in Religious Studies and Theatre Studies from Yale University and her MFA in Musical Theatre Writing from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.
Feb 3, 2007—Ottawa Youth Orchestra, cond. John Gomez Centrepointe Theatre (Ottawa)
Commissioned by the Ottawa Youth Orchestra to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
Score Perusal & Parts Rental
For score perusal and parts rental information, contact Robert Rival.