Matthew Deegan and I have been a creative force for several years now, fueling and enabling each other in ways that simply would not be possible without the other. We began our creative partnership by writing some simple, fun (and relatively ambitious) songs together in high school, and, as of now, almost every one of those songs has found a new home, whether it be nestled somewhere in the soundtrack of Dis-Topia, or existing on its own as an individual release online. However, the second song that we had ever written together, and the one that we both feel holds a particularly fond place in our hearts, is one that never ended up officially seeing the light of day.
During a lunch period in high school, Deegan and I were sitting at a piano in the school auditorium, brainstorming some musical ideas and getting nowhere. After letting our minds wander and getting distracted, I began talking about the Salem witch trials (which we had just talked about in history class that day), and how utterly absurd and disgusting the idea of this part of history was. How incredibly revealing of human nature it is that fear mongering and the shifting of blame could be taken to such a ridiculous extreme – to me it almost felt like a farce, that such an utterly comical idea could have led to such a radical and tragic part of our world’s history. While we were talking, I was letting my hands wander across the piano, and in my improvisation I landed on a spooky ascending chromatic figure. I then put a swing on it, Deegan began saying some nonsensical phrases, and by the end of our lunch period, Must Be Witches had taken shape.
At its core, this song is a lighthearted satire. The “story” is told from the perspective of someone who denies all responsibility for their own blunders, and instead of looking to reason or logic or even bad luck to explain their misfortune, they are convinced that it all boils down to the unseen black magic of witches. As the song progresses, the absurdity of the accusations goes from being funny to distinctly sinister, with the accusations shifting from attempts to justify minor inconveniences to a full call to action with the intent to hunt the witches and mercilessly murder them, regardless of their guilt.
The song sat on the proverbial shelf for about five years, being dusted off occasionally for a local performance or two, even inspiring a director to give Deegan and me our first collaborative screenwriting and scoring gig on a short film together. However, after the creation and premiere of Dis-Topia, with no Witches in sight, I decided that we needed to turn this song into something tangible and listenable, just like we did with the others. I arranged it for big band in December 2021, and we recorded a demo the following January, and later had a full band session in March. It was in planning my capstone composition recital that I knew what the final step would be, and thus the orchestral rendition of Must Be Witches was put to paper.