With Ice Dragon looming and Arts & Sciences on our collective minds, the following poem seems to beautifully capture what many of us have gone through, are going through, and will go through, in our never-ending quest to make the thing. Enjoy!
Weaving your dreams
for Maestra Elisif Gydasdottir
The first time you saw it, You knew from the start That thing they were making It captured your heart Igniting your dreams, you had found your key “One day -I just know it- the maker will be me!”
Weaving your dreams with threads spun of gold, Until those dreams blossom, and a wreath then unfolds So heart all afire You set on your path, Materials were needed But God, what was what?You tried all the wrong things and some right ones too But all of a sudden, it was a thing you could do
Sewing your dreams, with fabric by the bolt Until those dreams blossom and a wreath then unfolds
Not perfect, not pretty That very first try But proud as a mother Until time passes by Then all of a sudden, flaws were all you could see And you started thinking, it may NOT be for me. Singing your dreams, with verses so old until those dreams blossom and a wreath then unfolds
But then someone saw you and all that you tried A hand on your shoulder always there when you cried They traveled along you, they shared their own art They gave you their time and a piece of their heart. Beading your dreams with glass bright and bold Until those dreams blossom and a wreath then unfolds
And all of a sudden Or after long years Your skills started flying More joy now than tears Some projects you bled on, or cursed, sometimes both But people were talking, they noticed your growth
Giving voice to your dreams with stories you told Until those dreams blossom and a wreath then unfolds
The project of doom Cost you nights without rest doubts, tears, and yet trust now Because it would be your best You knew the way forward, right from the start Because that thing you were making had captured your heart.
Weaving your dreams with threads spun of gold, Until those dreams blossom, and a wreath then unfolds
Your name is well known now your guidance they seek From student to teacher for the bold and the meek Who say as they sit and and they look at your art “That thing you are making has captured my heart.”
The poem was written by Baroness Machteld Cleine in 2020, for her friend Ellisif Gydasdottir who was given her writ to sit vigil at Gulf Wars to contemplate joining the order of the Laurel. Her friend had mentioned that while there were many songs in one way or another of the journey from squire to knighthood, there were none that came to mind about an apprentice’s journey to the becoming a master or mistress of their craft.
Baroness Machteld said “As a friend.. I had to try and fix that.” She wrote this poem, which has the wonderful potential to be put to music, to make the event special for her. It was intended to be performed on site, but due to the Plague has been shared on paper, for now. Baroness Machteld wants it to be also available for others, as well as honoring her mentor Mistress Marion Leoncina di Susa and all the other people who ‘guide’ along the road.
Please tune in, one and all, to a bardic circle hosted by the wonderful bards of Sylvan Æthelmearc. Performers and listeners alike are invited to attend, no matter where you live, for as little or as much time as you’d like. Format will be Pick/Pass/Play. When the rotation comes around to you, you can request someone perform something, pass to the next person, or perform something yourself.
Find the log in information for the online event here.
The Sylvan Bard championships had over a dozen bards entering! That’s GREAT!! I was excited to see so much talent and passion come out of the woodwork for it. For next year, I’d like to see us get 20 bards out there to compete, especially considering how much territory we cover. On that note, I’m putting forth the challenge to make next year’s championships about original material. Bards and performers are the best way (in my opinion) to preserve and spread the milestones and culture of the Marc.
My intent for next year’s competition (given their future Majesties’ permission) will to limit entries to wholly original or filked pieces based on something that happened to or within AEthelmearc at some point between today and next year’s Kingdom Twelfth Night. And for the non-composers among us, I know that might be a step up for you, but I believe Æthelbards are up to the challenge. We are bigger than our doubts and current abilities. To be safe, I’ll be reaching out to our baronies and shires to make sure those off of social media know.
As unfortunately there was no video of the winning performance, here is a sneak peek at another most unusual performance, “Perche dolce caro bene” by Bran o’Labradha.
For inspiration, and just plain fun, many of the Sylvan Bard Championship performances are now uploaded to the Kingdom ofÆthelmearc Youtube channel at Ætube. Take a listen, and enjoy our Kingdom’s bardic talent same as we did!
That said, I’m a wordsmith first, and I am fully at your disposal for any assistance you may need in that regard. If you’re struggling on phrasing, or don’t know how to convey certain messages, or even if it’s just what to rhyme with, please reach out to me. We need to remember we’re a community, and together, we have the skills and talent to do great things. Onward and upward!
Over a dozen bards performed their best in the wonderful acoustic Masonic Temple hall that served as a beautiful medieval backdrop to their different performances at Kingdom Twelfth Night in St. Swithin’s Bog.
The hall was well filled and I felt honored to be one of spectators present at this special event. Hersir Torvaldr Torgarson had organized this years’ competition after winning the honor of representing the Bardic Arts for Æthelmearc last year and it was quite the show. Each entrant could choose to perform either something about Æthelmearc or what they thought of as their best work. This was my first Bards of the Sylvan Kingdom Championship, and if this is what happens each year I sure have been missing out! As I quite enjoyed the different performances, I thought perhaps you would to, so I made a list of who did what for you to see what you missed… Enjoy, and perhaps we’ll see each other at next years’ event, organized by the newly minted Sylvan Bard Éadaoin Ruadh.
Hersir Thorvaldr welcoming all entrants and spectators.
Hersir Thorvaldr opened the competition after a short welcome to everyone competing and otherwise with a moving piece he wrote himself called the “Ballad of the Lonely Norseman.” Visit the Book of Faces post for the lyrics, or see the Moving Pictures here (Melody and lyrics by Thorvaldr, instrumental by Valadonis Stareagle)
Then THL Magge Illefoster, a Sylvan Bard of the past herself, blessed us with a wonderful rendition of the “Rose of Arindale” which she wrote in honor of Queen Gabrielle, as she was once again present to judge those true and worthy.
For more on the song click here
Kicking off the competition was Master Dagonell the Juggler, who performed “Paintin’ Flowers” as a filk to “Countin’ Flowers” by The Statler Brothers. Dagonell dedicated the song to Baroness Ekat, for putting the earworm in his head in the first place!
Visit the Book of Faces post for the lyrics
A hard act to follow, Bran o’Labradha performs “Perche dolce caro bene” with bellowed gusto!
A most surprising performance was given by Bran o’Labradha with “Perche dolce caro bene” – quite singularly my favorite, but then I do have a weak spot for classical guitar. Singing both the male and female parts, in Italian, while accompanying himself by guitar, was fantastic, even if the experience left Bran a wee bit shaken!
Master William de Montegilt read his original poem, “Something about Æthelmearc.”
Count Jehan de la Marche recited the Shakespearean speeches between Hotspur and Falstaff, both from Henry IV part 1, with a little help from His Royal Highness Prince Maynard von dem Steine.
Lord Éadaoin Ruadh performances “Towton’ s Creek,“
Lord Éadaoin Ruadh stole the day with his performance of a song called “Towton’ s Creek,” his filked version of “The Green Fields of France,” to cover the Battle of Towton from the War of the Roses, and which had the spectators humming along with him.
THL Alianora Bronhulle sang with a song “Raise your glass (to the Lady fierce and true)” – a fun song that made us all chuckle out loud!
Keris Silber sang the beautiful “My Sylvan Home.”
Visit the Book of Faces post for the lyrics
Maighstir Liam Macant Saoir did a strong rendition of his original piece, “Sylvan Soldiers Song,”
Lady Nicola Beese had us grinning with “Fortune my Foe,” a song about angst, and who does angst better than the Elizabethans, Lady Nicola implored us!
And Wulfflaed on Hehstaldes closed the performance with a heart-warming rendition of the traditional holiday song Oh, Tannenbaum, in German.
Count Jehan de la Marche enthusiastically reciting the speeches between Hotspur and Falstaff, with help from His Royal Highness Prince Maynard von dem Steine.
Hersir Torvaldr Torgarson then thanked all the entrants for their passion for the bardic arts, and for making the task in choosing his successor so difficult. Vivant, all bards of Æthelmearc!
Greetings one and all from your Bardic Champion as the Bard of Æthelmearc Championship is almost upon us! This year, there will be two categories: your best piece and something about Æthelmearc. It is the intention entrants will perform a piece in either category – if there is not enough time to do both the entrant will get to choose which one they want to use. It is preferred the piece be written by the entrant, but if they prefer to use a historical period piece then that is also acceptable.
Come all, and enter for the privilege of becoming the Kingdom Bard! Entertain our Sylvan Kingdom, and help record Kingdom events and history. The glorious position of Kingdom Bard welcomes composers of original work, and encourages research into period work. If this sounds interesting to you, or if you would just like to perform for the heck of it, we’ll be looking forward to your entry!
Their Royal Majesties King Timothy of Arindale and Queen Gabrielle van Nijenrode, and I, current champion Hersir Torvaldr Torgarson, will be judging. I look forward to seeing all the talented and wonderful performers. The Bard of Æthelmearc Championship will be at Æthelmearc Kingdom 12th night in St. Swithin’s Bog on Saturday, Jan 11th 2020.
This song was performed live by Éadaoin at the 2019 Æthelmearc 12th Night, for the Sylvan Bardic championship. It was originally performed from the mixed point of view of a 5th century monk and a SCAdian scribal artist. The upcoming Kingdom 12th Night will be January 11th 2020 in St. Swithin’s Bog, inviting us all to celebrate the glory that is Æthelmearc, and enjoy a winter day of fighting, fencing, feasting, dancing, music, and halljoy together! Who knows, we might even catch a glimpse of Éadaoin, performing again!
A 2D World
Lyrics (mostly) by Éadaoin Ruadh (mka Rebecca Glon)
Melody from “A Whole New World” Composed by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Tim Rice
I can show you a world—
Maybe not shining, but splendid—
Where I can’t remember the last time
Part of my skin wasn’t dyed.
Such an intricate art,
Lines and spaces at play…
Why is this horse green?
Oh well, it’s a rough draft anyway.
A 2D world: an old yet simple point of view.
This medium doesn’t show depth, I know,
But I can flatten any object on cue.
This 2D world: so many scrolls ruined by a cat
Or by my dragging sleeves, and remember, please:
Keep your tea and wash water separate.
(Or you’ll hallucinate a whole new world!)
Chained to my chair for weeks.
Two scrolls by Thursday?!
Looks like I’m not getting any sleep.
Our 2D world (don’t you dare lick that scroll!)
Just please say “thanks” once so we think you care.
We hope in your new scroll’s home, it might get shown,
But after it’s buried in a pile of garb somewhere.
For a 2D world of beautiful art, we hope and pray.
When gilding and paint won’t stick, we mutter “Shiiiii…oops!”
That’s the most explicit thing I can say.
A world in two dimensions is where I’ll be,
‘Cause we don’t see the third ‘til the fourteenth century.
Éadaoin Ruadh is an active member of the Æthelmearc College of Bards on the Book of Faces. More information on the upcoming Kingdom 12th Night can be found on Æthelmearc.org and on the Book of Faces. And if you feel inspired to join in the fun, the event posting lists: “We graciously announce that the Kingdom Bardic Championship will be held at our event this year, so come prepared to share your talents!”
Greetings of the Yule Season! Welcome back to my penultimate article on the Bardic arts in the SCA. So far in this series, we’ve talked about bards and what makes a good one, the types of music one can encounter within the SCA, what a contrefait or “filk” is and isn’t, and the particular modes of music that flourished throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance in the church, known as plainchant modes. This time, we’re going to talk a little bit about what wasn’t well preserved from the period: Medieval folk music.
I mentioned before that one of the most obvious reasons we have so much music from the church and the court from within our era is simply that it’s the stuff that got written down. Wealthy patrons sponsored the creation of huge books collecting the music and translating it into notation. That notation evolved and eventually became almost recognizable as modern notation (though modern notation was still a few centuries away at the time our period covers). Other cultures had different ways of preserving their musical heritage, mostly through an oral tradition but sometimes with other systems of musical writing. They also had systems of composition that were and are markedly different from the liturgical sound that is the basis of so much extant music from the Medieval and Renaissance periods in western Europe.
What about people who didn’t have more than a Sunday morning exposure to church music, or formal training, or even people who didn’t grow up in an area where liturgical music and Gregorian plainsong were prevalent? What about people who didn’t compose for the purpose of church or court, or who weren’t familiar with the “rules” that governed that kind of music? For every court composer or noble amateur who was educated (by the church, incidentally), there were presumably dozens of musicians, performers, and peasant amateurs who were not. They likely adapted many of the tunes they heard in church and repurposed them in the form of contrefait. (In fact, we know for a surety that they did.) But they also just as likely composed their own tunes along lines that may be much more similar to modern folk melodic structure than one might think.
In addition, there are dozens of settings in which liturgical music simply won’t get the job done. No one rouses an army and stirs them to run into battle to the dulcet tones of a lute. Just being loud is not necessarily a recommendation, either. The Waits of local areas played loudly, but they evolved into entertainment over time from their original purpose as a warning system. Similarly, court music is simply not suited to the tavern hall, or the threshing house, or the marketplace, as any busker can attest. The sound is too delicate. Dance music has huge variety and moreover has to be played loudly to be heard, so it can attract the sort of attention and liveliness that is called for in those circumstances, but it still doesn’t achieve quite the same result as a chorus song or patriotic anthem, or a drinking song. (Though there are many dance tunes that acquired lyrics over time!) There are basic human needs which have not changed in thousands of years, and for the most part, the music that fills those moments speaks in melodies that do not necessarily correspond to the extant music we have from the Medieval period. The songs of the people were likely much more robust and simpler than church modes.
The problem is that whatever they were writing or singing, little to none of it survived.
So what did it really sound like?
Well, we have a few examples. We have some rounds, catches, and canons. We have a few drinking songs dating back to the 12th century, notably from the Carmina Burana. From later in period we have published books of broadsides by Purcell, Ravenscroft, and others. The Renaissance provides a much higher number of pieces, but then again, the same principles of survival apply: the majority of them are not populist in origin. We have large numbers of suriviving lyrics, with tunes which have been extrapolated or revised based on other suriviving music.
For the most part, we’re left to imagine.
And while it’s true that the harmonics of the time resulted in some intervals, chords, and rhythms that sound “funky” to a modern ear, if one isolates the melody line, often they are not too far off from something that might sound “folky” to a listener today. By the time we reach Middle English, the line between “Medieval sounding” and “traditional sounding” is very blurry indeed.
Take for example one of the better known drinking songs: In Taberna Quando Sumus from the Carmina Burana. Here’s an excellent recording via YouTube.
Ignore the accompaniment and just listen to the melody of the chorus. It’s in minor key – not in a church mode. It’s repetitive, it’s eminently singable, and it’s not too far off, in many ways, from a melody an SCA bard might come up with.
Just for giggles, compare the melodic structure of In Taberna to an SCA bardic classic: Heather Alexander’s March of Cambreadh.
Really, not terribly far off.
Here’s another example. “Dives and Lazarus” is a very popular tune that survives and has been used many times with variations or new lyrics. It’s better known to many as “The Star of the County Down.” There are also familiar Christmas carols that date back to our period of study, that are not only familiar because we still sing them, but because they have a “folk-like” structure and modality. Now, this is not to suggest that any tune can be justified as Medieval-sounding. There are certainly songs written for or used within SCA contexts that contain much more aggressively modernistic melodic progressions, structures, and even tricky intervals that bear little to no resemblance to any extant Medieval music. Nonetheless, it demonstrates that songs did exist that were not written in Church modes or with a terribly unusual structure.
But don’t we just have to limit ourselves to what we know existed?
If you’re researching a piece or trying to stick to a specific mode, then yes. The problem with that premise is it pre-supposes the need to do that, when there’s far more to the question of composition than what survived. There’s just so little extant Medieval music that did not originate in the church, or the court, or somewhere in between. Compared to what must have existed at the time, it’s a drop in the bucket.
Here’s some food for thought, and forgive the modern statistical intrusion, but bear with me. According to Billboard, the premiere music rating service, approximately 75,000 albums were released in the U.S. in 2010. An average album has about 12 tracks on it, but let’s say 10 just to account for EPs, singles, and so on, and to give us a nice round number. Even if we assume that half of those recordings were of exclusively non-original material, that is, new recordings of pre-existing music, that’s still 37,500 new albums’ worth (at a guess) produced and registered with Billboard, or 375,000 individual pieces of music – and that doesn’t count albums that *aren’t* registered with Billboard. That’s for one calendar year.
Classical music scholars consider the Medieval period to cover music between 800 and 1400; the Early Music project acknowledges music from before the 12th century but concentrates on the era from 1100 forward. They divide the era thus due to the emergence of surviving polyphony that appeared at that time, slowly overtaking the previous three centuries of plainchant. Our period comprises 1,000 years (600-1600 CE). Still, let’s be conservative and limit calculation to the 300 years between 1100 and 1400. Let’s further limit ourselves by factoring only 1% of the estimated number of new songs written in 2010 as an estimate, to account for the smaller populations and geographical area of Europe. One percent of 375,000 is 3,750 new compositions per year. Over 300 years, that’s 1,125,000 songs that might have been composed during that amount of time. And that’s just one third of our span.
So, while we do have examples and abundant resources on what has survived, the comparative number of songs that might have been written and lost is astronomically high.
That’s one reason why I, for one, am not too fussed if an SCA-composed piece is not particularly “Medieval” or even “Renaissance” sounding. What we consider to be that “sound” corresponds to a narrow definition and a very limited repertoire of surviving music. Of course, our stated purpose is to strive to recreate the period with the greatest achievable level of authenticity. As long as original compositions avoid using constructions that adopt those aforementioned “modernistic” devices, I submit that it is hitting that mark. It still may not be to every taste, or may sound too much like “folk music” for those purists who only wish to listen to actual period music – but that is not the same distinction as something that is “indistinguishable” in its use of modes or construction from a composition by a court composer of the era.
I think that for many years, there’s been an entrenched assumption that the only “authentic-sounding” music is music that sounds just like composers such as Hildegard von Bingen, Peter Abelard, Adam de la Halle, Guillaume de Machaut, or any of the handful of others whose music has survived. That assumption is, to my mind, analogous to the old days when the only form of heraldry used, recommended, and accepted by the College of Heralds was modeled after Fox-Davies and a handful of other resources specialized mostly around English and French heraldry. The heralds revised their position to become more accepting of other cultures’ rules and standards, and thus more flexible about serving the SCA populace with personae from outside that narrow sphere. In a similar way, our expectations about SCA music are unnecessarily restrictive. We need to broaden the spectrum of what qualifies as “authentic” in its structure.
Of course, there are limits. I love musical theatre but I would not be remotely tempted to compose a modern-era musical theatre style song and expect it to sound appropriate within most SCA contexts. If I did introduce something modernistic, I would attempt to mask it in ways that blend better into the milieu of our events – or I would be using it for deliberate anachronistic dissonance. Skill plays some role, here, too, and the saying about “knowing the rules in order to break them” may well apply. There are certainly SCA musicians who write music intended for a broader audience, whose pieces sometimes take significant departures from a standard SCA-style melodic structure. On the other hand, even there, a lot of the feeling of modernity can be attributed to the arrangement of accompanying instruments. Some of Heather Dale’s studio albums feature electric guitar – but when she sings the same song at Pennsic, accompanied only by a bodhran or her penny whistle, the feeling is dramatically different and more “Current Middle Ages” in tone. Again, go back to the Carmina Burana piece and if you can, ignore the cadences of the accompanying instruments. Focus on the melody. It’s almost classic “SCA bardic” style. And it’s one of the oldest drinking songs we have.
The important and essental exception to these practices of avoiding the modern is the area of contrafait – but for that, see my filk article and how that’s not always going to be the right choice to evoke the right emotional response in a given SCA moment. Remember that, as with all these guidelines for the bardic arts, there are three fundamental principles which must be observed:
The material chosen must speak to some emotional grip on the audience;
The performance must move the audience to that emotional place;
The audience must be able to see, hear, and understand the performance.
Therefore, for achieving of the feeling of “Medieval folk music,” I hold that composers are justified in using simple melodic constructions which draw inspiration from ballads, chansons, and other sources, but that do not necessary correspond point by point to the surviving “rules” of plainchant or even early polyphony – because that structure was not necessarily the only thing that was being produced.
There is one other reason it may be appropriate to include the typical “SCA Bardic” sound as a legitimate approximation of perioid style. It’s important to remember that “period” original music (excluding contrefacta) wasn’t “old” music at the time it was written. But that will be the topic of my next (and final) article in this series.
Here are some additional sources of existing Medieval music and known composers:
 Unless it is, that is. Anyone who was at Pennsic Opening Ceremonies may remember that “Æthelmearc is awesome!” because when Lego hands me a song opportunity on a platter, sure, I’m going to go for the cheap laugh. But that’s contrafacta, not a composition crafted specifically for the SCA. And it’s also important to note that the intention of that was primarily humour, and secondarily something that incorporated a timely cultural reference and co-opted it for the emotion of the day. Most importantly: It worked.