Colony Collapse Disorder

A Song About Honeybees


We dance to show each other where the flowers are
We dance to show from whence comes life
We love to find where all the colourful flowers are
We love to visit them, to take and give life

That’s why we dance
That’s why we tremble
We show with our waggle
Never needing to shake

And you you always understood
That we were the only way for you to be free
But instead you offered slavery,
Sickness, infestation and monotony
Don’t know if it’s the drugs or the drudgery
But we need something different we need something to change
And you you always understood
That you would die too, so why don’t you

Why can’t you tremble
Why won’t you waggle
We need to shake so

Why don’t you dance
Why can’t you tremble
Why won’t you waggle
We need to shake

Listen to the full song here.

Interview with Trevor Bechtel

Anabaptist Bestiary Project (ABP) is a band that I formed five years ago at Bluffton University. In this project I write songs about how animals reveal God’s will for human life and the band, a collection of vocal and instrumental musicians at Bluffton, arranges the music. Colony Collapse Disorder, the third in a cycle of songs written using analogies of pollinators to imagine the Trinity, is the lead single from Of Every Creature by Anabaptist Bestiary Project.

I have loved writing songs for ABP because I find that constraining myself to write songs about animals frees me to focus on the song, because I never need to begin by thinking what will I write about now. Instead, I always begin by asking which animal I will write about now. More recently, students at Bluffton have pressured me into writing about their favourite animals, which leaves me in the unenviable space of often thinking I should write a song about the duogong.

In the case of Colony Collapse Disorder, I had several constraints that I needed to satisfy: Since I had already written a song about hummingbirds as an analogy for Christ, the second person of the trinity, (http://anabaptistbestiaryproject.bandcamp.com/track/hummingbird) and hummingbird moths as an analogy for God, the first person of the trinity (http://anabaptistbestiaryproject.bandcamp.com/track/hummingbird-moth), this song also needed to reflect on the role of the holy spirit in relation to humanity, as well as a song about honeybees that reflects on the process of pollination.

Furthermore, because I was convinced I needed to write an upbeat pop song, I found the writing process quite difficult. I often find that writing straight up pop songs is much more difficult than something with a more alternative or folk feel. The words have to land right in a pop song, whereas I can expect more contortionism from my vocalists in other genres. It is almost always the case that the pop song just needs to come. I had been wanting Colony Collapse Disorder to emerge and I still remember the huge feeling of relief when the melody for the verse came and words started fitting themselves in.

I do a good deal of research every time I write for ABP. As a professional theologian there is always a ton of theology behind every song, even if it remains implicit. I also read whatever I can in scientific and popular press about the animal I am portraying, although only a few of those details emerge in the lyrics. In this song, the prevalence of Colony Collapse Disorder in bee colonies throughout Europe and North America just burst forth when I got to the bridge and overwhelmed the song. It seemed to represent the religious malaise of European and North American churches well. Here are the liner notes:

Honeybees have long been noticed for their highly organized industrious life. Only bees that live in community produce honey. Their monarchy is highly democratic in function, as new food sources are evaluated in a participatory structure negotiated through the tremble and waggle dances. They perform the shake dance to call for needed grooming when they becomes infested by mites or covered by other substances. Honeybees and other pollinators give life to many other creatures through their work in the fertilization and flourishing of flowering plants. Of the 100 crops that give humans 90 percent of our food, honeybees pollinate 70 percent, with some crops totally dependent on honeybee pollination. Yet, we systematically attack them through monotonous cross-country work performed year round pollinating large pesticide laden monoculture farms. Honeybees are a good analogy for the Holy Spirit given their consistent work in helping humans to flourish and bringing creations glory to fruition. When we play inappropriately with the Spirit’s gifts we run the risk of being stung either directly in a shocking and painful moment, or systematically in a moment leading to our death.

And some more liner notes from hummingbird moth about how these three songs form a trinity:

Our first e.p. featured the song Hummingbird about hummingbirds. We noticed then that hummingbirds always attract our attention with their beautiful movement and colouring. The hummingbird is a good symbol for Christ as hummingbirds are resurrected daily from a state of torpor. Hummingbird moths are ideal for thinking about the first person of the trinity because they are a creature with a purpose that we understand and which is duplicated exactly by other pollinators, but yet either because of our own lack of recognition or their similarity to the much more noticed and obvious hummingbird, we often do not see them. They remain in many ways a transcendent animal, until we see them and recognize that they have been flying around us all along. It is Augustine that noticed this about God when he said, "God is closer to me than I am to myself."

I am not aware of covers of Colony Collapse Disorder, but Hummingbird Moth was covered by the Goshen Band, Moral Circus. However, mentioning this here is kind of cheating, since I paid for the cover as a part of their crowdfunding campaign for their new album, Set in a Stem.

How did you get into song-writing?

I’ve written songs as a recreation since high school. I sometimes feel that my vocation is to be a rock star, but that I took a job as a theologian at a Mennonite church college for the financial security. I have always enjoyed writing music, and even moreso playing original music in a band with friends. I have done this at most junctures in my life.

Who are some of your biggest influences and sources of inspiration, musically and otherwise?

I’m inspired by Bruce Cockburn more than anyone; his combination of Christian influences and his eschewal of the Christian music scene really resonate with me. Colony Collapse Disorder shows my love of the Canadian band Metric. They Might Be Giants and Sufjan Stevens are also significant influences on my work for the ways in which they approach the songwriting task and the topics they choose to write about.

What, if anything, from your Mennonite heritage influences your work?

My music is always deeply, if implicitly, theological. I like writing theological music. Maybe someday theological rock will be a genre.

About the Author

Trevor Bechtel

Trevor Bechtel was recently appointed Dean of Conrad Grebel University College. He served at Bluffton University as Associate Professor of Religion for 10 years. Bechtel is an ordained theologian in MCUSA. He attends Shalom Community Church in Ann Arbor. He is the Creative Director of the Anabaptist Bestiary Project (anabaptistbestiaryproject.com). He lives in Ann Arbor with his wife, Susan Hunsberger and his cat, Neko.