Populace in Focus today features King’s Bardic Champion Master Morien MacBain and Queen’s Bardic Champion, The Honorable Lady Maggie Rue.
Could you give a little background about how and when you started performing as part of the Bardic Arts community?
Morien: I found the SCA back in ‘86. The very first event I went to, in what is now Ballachlagan, had a bardic circle, like pretty much all events did in those days. Lord, they were fun! Lots of Irish rebel music, Sci-Fi/Fantasy Con filk, dirty puns, blood, and iron stuff. Pure joy! The bards that had the greatest impact on me back then were Donnan the Solitary and Morgan Caer Graeme. I learned a great deal from them and miss those performances and those songs.
Maggie Rue: In the SCA, this was really my first performance. While I have hung out around a few Bardic circles among households and groups, I generally don’t sing; it occurred to me at the onset of this competition that I may not need to. Surprise!
Morien: I’m still primarily a bardic circle guy. I like the informality of it, the lack of pressure, the faces in the firelight, the willing audience, and the “renao” (which is a wonderful Mandarin word for the noise, happy chatting, laughter, and activity of life happening that forms a backdrop to a performance). My least favorite would have to be live bardic competitions. You usually only get to do one piece, impostor syndrome kicks in, and my will to compete is safer if the other person is wearing armor! If I’m going to fight to win, I want it to be with weapons, not a bit of my heart.
Maggie Rue: Not a great singer and my improv skills are more action-related than a lot of speech. So, I’d go with memorizing an old poem or writing a new one and reciting it as first and foremost. Least favorite would be improving a song. I could be wrong though—enough immersion into a subject and I might get better. We’ll see.
Have you done any type of performance arts outside of the SCA?
Morien: Sure! I sang in the church choir for years when I was in middle and high school, which was the best vocal training I’ve had. I did the school musical every year, plus summer theater, which were usually musicals. I’ve sung in a few bars, once on a tiny stage where Patsy Cline sang when she was starting out. That felt like a church. No one threw anything. I’ve done poetry slams in clubs a couple times. Now I am a high school English teacher, so a lot of my work is essentially storytelling to a tough audience!
Maggie Rue: Yes, indeed. I performed for a time as a character in Jesus Christ Superstar in Middletown NY for a couple of years, doing chorus parts and dancing. I’ve done a number of high school performances as well. During my years as a Game Designer, I ran the convention circuits and had to talk up game products—spiels, really—and became really good at impromptu game sessions. In addition, my parents were both members of the Philadelphia Folk Song Society and I went to a number of music Festivals in my early years… You’d be surprised as to how many SCA songs I’ve heard before in other places in different interpretations.
How much time do you spend researching bardic performances and practicing in preparation for doing a performance?
Morien: Most of my research for the last few years has been on the poetry side of my bardic practice. I work in a wide variety of forms from different periods and cultures, so there is always more to learn! However, I don’t really practice singing enough. I have a playlist of songs I am working up and sing along with it in the car. I have attempted to learn the hard, and suck quite badly at that. I should learn to drum much better, so I could accompany myself on a bodhran. I think I’ll get to work on that…
Maggie Rue: Given this was my first real SCA-based performance, I took two weeks to prepare.
Morien: I’ve done bardic circles all over, and I’ve taught classes on writing poetry at SCA Fifty Year, Pennsic, AEthelmearc Academy, and Atlantia University. I’ve done “Music in the Key of D”, a bardic contest hosted by the Chalk Man Pub at Pennsic a few times. I also sing battle hype songs with fighters while we are on our way to the battlefield at Pennsic to get our blood up. On these former occasions, I find you seldom go wrong with Irish or Scottish rebel music, or filthy rugby songs.
Maggie Rue: This is it.
When you chose to participate in the Quest to be Sylvan Bard, did you do a type of performance that you have done before, or did you come up with a completely new performance?
Morien: I broke out two I had written before, “The Green Fields of Pennsic”, and “The Ballad of Big Bad Jehan”. Both are staples of the campfire music I like.
Maggie Rue: So, I took a number of courses in college that were medieval in nature and “Chaucer” was one of them. The teacher insisted we learn a number of lines in Middle English, taking out his personal recordings from the library to learn the lilts and rhythms. Seventeen years later, I still hear his voice. What I performed for the competition was longer than what he had us memorize, though, so I had to go find some recordings on which to base my own performance.
How did it feel to do a performance via the online community versus doing a live performance at an event?
Morien: I loved it! I liked that I got to strike and vanish like Zorro and could just focus on what I was doing. The competitive side with all its nasty thoughts and lust to win did not make an appearance!
Maggie Rue: It was actually pretty comfortable.
Did you face any challenges with performing in the sylvan bard competition?
Morien: Yep! I am a goofball at tech, and my performance of “Big Bad Jehan” kept turning out badly because I didn’t understand how to make my phone work, so I wound up just sending in “Green Fields of Pennsic” by itself.
Maggie Rue: None
Being one of the sylvan bards within the kingdom, can you share your plans / ideas for keeping the bardic arts alive in the kingdom during your tenure?
Morien: Heck yeah! We are looking at maintaining the practice of monthly online bardic hangouts on the first Tuesday of each month of the year starting at 8 in the evenings. Rue will be handling the tech, rest assured, although I will try to learn it as well. We’re also looking at starting a sort of “Bardic Boot Camp”, an ongoing series of classes (both online and in person) on subjects like vocal training, storytelling, playing instruments, poetic composition, and so on. We’ve already started reaching out to teachers from across the kingdom and the known world, and people seem enthusiastic! Also, I plan to start a FB group that should be an ongoing poetry writing workshop combined with a book study circle on various forms and skills from beginner to advanced. I’m working up a syllabus for it, and reaching out to established poets to participate, although the focus will be on bringing new aspiring poets into the field. So, COVID or not, we’ll be helping people along! We will also be working to ensure that live bardic circles and performances happen at in-person events, never fear!
Maggie Rue: So, there’s been talk of having a Novice Day like the one they had in the East Kingdom, which I attended, and one of the biggest beefs was that there was no Novice Bardic competition. So, we’re changing that. In addition, I’m going to incorporate Bardic Arts in my other A&S specialties, researching and performing songs that would also be of interest to the Herbal and Apothecary Guild as well as the Assassins’ Guild. Master Morien and I will continue the Bardic Competitions and we’ve got plans to get the Bardic Arts everywhere.
What advice would you give to other populace who would like to pursue the quest to be involved in bardic arts and perform in bardic arts competitions?
Morien: Come join us for the First Tuesday Onlines! Join in! If you aren’t ready, just listen for a while, and then pipe in! Join the FB groups for “AEthelmearc College of Bards”, “SCA Bardic Arts”, “AEthelmearc Arts & Sciences”, and the FB group for “Bardic Boot Camp” and “AEthelmearc Poetry Workshop”, once I get them running! Perform anywhere you can. Make a playlist of songs you want to learn and sing along with them in the car at high volume! Do NOT worry about what you sound or look like. Don’t listen to the haters. Read, listen, and watch good performances not just as an audience, but as a crafter, see what they are doing, and how they are doing it. Remember that you can learn as much from a bad performance as from a good one. A poet is one on whom NOTHING is wasted. I have a FAT list of books for you to get into if you like! LET’S DO THIS!!
More advice! Remember, your performance begins from the moment you are called, and doesn’t end until you are off the stage. Entrances and exits matter! Also, when in doubt, pretend to be slightly drunk, or more drunk than you in fact are. People like a drunken bard, and if you mess up, they will forgive you and enjoy it. Schadenfreude!
Oh, and one more piece of advice: When composing, even if you aren’t working in a purely alliterative form like Anglos-Saxon or 14th-century Alliterative Revival or something, get that alliteration in there. It’s like salt in cooking. People may not notice it, but they WILL like it!
Maggie Rue: Just do it. Get involved with everything sooner or later. I have been on a tear these past few years of just reaching out and getting involved. Look where it landed me. I don’t care if all you know are nursery rhymes: give it a try. Can’t sing? Me, neither. Let’s go learn stuff together.
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