The Handmaid’s Tale (1998)

The Handmaid’s Tale (1998) was commissioned by two internationally known pianists –  Ursula Oppens and Aki Takahashi in celebration of American Women Composers Midwest 15th anniversary at Pick Staiger Hall at Northwestern University, Evanston, It has since been performed by CUBE; Ensemble Noir, Toronto, Canada; and Columbia College. (14 min.)

The Handmaid’s Tale is inspired by the chilling futuristic novel of the same name by Canadian author Margaret Artwood. The four movements of this composition reflect my passionate reading of the Atwood text.

In Margaret Atwood’s own words:

1. “Night is the time for private thoughts, whispered communications in the training school for the Handmaids… We learned to whisper almost without sound. In the semidarkness we could stretch out our arms, when the Aunts weren’t looking, and touch each other’s hands across space.”

2. Gilead, the home of the Handmaid, reflects a society in which the role of women and men has been redefined by massive infertility caused by world-wide nuclear and chemical pollution. “The bell that measures time is ringing, as once in nunneries. As in a nunnery too, there are few mirrors.”

3. Jezebels — a forbidden Night Club in an ancient hotel. A scene in the night club for the commanders of Gilead only, forbidden to the Wives and Handmaids. “It is like a masquerade party; they are like oversized children, dressed up in togs they’ve rummaged from trunks.”

4. Salvaging — a public hanging for women only. Wives (infertile women married to commanders), Handmaids (fertile women), Marthas (servants), Econowives (lower-ranking women), and Aunts (trainers of the Handmaids). “The three bodies hang there,… like flightless birds, wrecked angels. It’s hard to take your eyes off them.”

[Handmaid’s Tale score]