The Barony-Marche of the Debatable Lands invites the Kingdom to an afternoon virtual 12th Night Social on Saturday, January 16th, starting at 1pm. Join us for socializing, games, entertainment, fighting classes, and more! Help us spread joy and cheer!
The full schedule with details and links to all the activities is here: http://bit.ly/12thNight21 . Use this document to navigate the event! Check out our plans:
A Main Room for socializing, and chatelaining. Drop in and see which of your friends are chatting. New folks are welcome to come in for intros and questions. You can do tech troubleshooting here, too!
Fighting Classes! — 1pm – Count Seto Gesshuko teaches “How to Stay Deadly with At Home Fighting Exercises” (1 hr) — 2pm – Viscount Sagan teaches “An Approach to Successful Training, Practice and Combat” (2 hrs) — 4pm – Jarl Steinarr Aggarson teaches “Reading Unknown Opponents in a Safe Way” (1hr)
A Game Room, hosted by Lord Angus MacDougall of the Debatable Lands: –Games include Carcassonne, 7 Wonders, and jackbox.tv offerings such as Quiplash, Talking Points, and Champ’d Up. –Exact games to be determined by the players. Come at 1pm to hop in early, but players are welcome anytime! [Note: some minor requirements outside of Zoom are needed for online gaming, see schedule for details]
Our Entertainment Room has many fun activities! –A merry Sing-A-Long with Lady Alysoun — I Genesii presents: “Arlecchino’s Adventure” & “Love Canals” (ages 16 and up only, pls) –Gift Exchange Unwrapping Party! Not part of an exchange? Bring your favorite holiday gift to show off! –A Bardic Circle, led by THL Silence de Cherbourg
We have an entire Movie Room just for Shakespeare’s 12th Night – every version! Presented by Master Alaric MacConnall. This activity starts at 11am and runs through midnight. See the event schedule (“Movie Schedule” tab) for the full movie titles and times.
We honored to host a Memorial Gathering in Honor of Master RemusFletcher from 3pm to 4pm. Details here.
At 5pm, all are invited to the Debatable Lands Baronial Court. Come on over to the Main Room to see your friends and chosen family be recognized.
The afternoon will conclude with a community chat after Court, same Zoom channel. See and chat and be of good cheer together. [Still want more? Shakespeare’s 12th Night Movies continue to midnight!]
Continuing the freshly-minted tradition of virtual sharing in these times of plague, the Kingdom Office of Arts & Sciences once again reached out to our fabulous Arts & Sciences Championship artisans. Through interviews for the Æthelmearc Gazette our artisans can share their work with the populace at large on a more personal level. Unlike the Virtual Queen’s Prize Tourney, which was run completely virtual, the Kingdom Championship is a juried competition, and included a week’s worth of face to face judging – with judges especially selected for their knowledge and background – as well as an online populace “meet and greet the artisans” before Kingdom court. Master Hrólfr and I, your Kingdom Arts & Sciences officers, enjoy these challenges of finding ways to inspire and motivate our artisans in these trying times and we are happy to see the Championship ran so smoothly! The Kingdom Championship would not have been nearly as successful without the extra-ordinary organizational skills of Master Hrólfr, the web development magic of Master Robert of Ferness and the zoom room wizardry of Lady Magdalena Txoperena and Baroness Amalie. Thank you for helping our artisans shine!
Could you tell me a little about you, your persona?
My persona is a turn of the 14th century Irishwoman who got to Scotland right around the time of Robert the Bruce. I’ve not determined whether or not she would actually write songs and stories, but she would certainly memorize and perform songs like these around a fire. Given the violence and backstabbing she has experienced, the pacifist feelings in Towton’s Creek could be right up her alley, though perhaps she wouldn’t have voiced them until after the war was finished. The love of the land and its offerings in Drink For a Scot’s Land would sit incredibly well with her character, too.
What inspired you to make your entry?
For Towton’s Creek, I’ve loved the message of Green Fields of France as well as its melody, and always wanted a period adjacent version to sing at campfires. Last Pennsic, after a late night/early morning performance that earned me a gift for my passion and talent, I was pushed even harder to complete it. Because I needed a brush tipper for it, I was also inspired to source local AEthelmearc oak and horse hair to make one for performing it (as any bard in that day would’ve done). For Drink For a Scot’s Land, I wanted to highlight the conservation efforts of Alan Watson-Featherstone and the Trees For Life charity that has been restoring Scotland’s Caledonian Forest for 40 years now. You find evidence of the flora and fauna in its verses as the land heals, as well as the timeless, world famous imagery their land evokes. Just like TFL, I believe there’s a lot to learn from nature, whether the scientific patterns or the symbolism. Additionally, so many people stereotype Scottish songs, as the opening tells us, into violence, drinking, or tragedy, so I wanted to highlight what wasn’t any of those.
Did the entry throw up any unexpected issues?
The write up took a lot longer than I expected, trying to cram in where I applied the research. I realized I need to leave more composition time, and better organize my sources for citing within my documentation. The variance in how well / poorly my voice can reach my range of notes is generally always an expected road bump, so I did my best to avoid it by singing after my voice had rested (right after waking up). Our adventure cat Mohinder decided to stay in our room while I recorded. Thankfully his movement didn’t distract the performance, and I’m glad for the practice in handling the mild chaos of a campfire.
Did you learn something specific, something you would do differently, or would recommend others to do again?
I learned a lot about how historical accounts are essentially a survey of what happened–no one group is going to have it exactly right. Somewhere in the midst of all of their words combined is the truth. As mentioned before, I would give myself much more time to prep the writing portion of the entry. I’d put more practice into breath control, as well, to help keep the audience from getting lost in choppy phrasing.
What did you think of the virtual face to face judging concept?
I’m in favor of the virtual judging when in-person isn’t possible, and this worked fine for me. This is the first competition I’ve been in with feedback on performance, so I don’t have much to compare it to.
What motivated you to enter the Kingdom Championship?
In all honesty, it was because Elska suggested it, that she would like a performance entry. Later I found it to be good practice for performing under pressure and examining how intimate I am with my pieces. I’m always happy to provide inspiration to others, to make our populace more aware of the bardic arts, and overall help where I can. The feedback helped immensely, in having experienced eyes and ears on my pieces, and my performances. I’m not truly here to win, but to compare my skill with how I’ve been in the past.
Anything else you would like to share?
I highly recommend any artisan to enter their works for a contest, even if you’re not looking for awards or renown. Sharing your knowledge and art is really what our Great Dream is about. The judging will help push you to improve and hone your skills. You never know what eyes are watching, and who next you’ll push to be their best.
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 from Dagonell the Juggler, the Known World Symposiums Advertising Deputy, working under the Society MoAS! Good gentles we have not one, but two KW Symposiums coming up on Labor Day Weekend!
Here is the first!
The Middle Kingdom and the Shire of Shattered Crystal invite the Known World Cooks, Bards, Brewers, and Vintners to the 8th Known World Bardic Congress and Cooks Collegium, to be held at Camp Dubois, Wood River, IL, (near St Louis) on Labor Day weekend 2019 (30-Aug-2019 – 02-Sep-2019).
198 North Main Street
Wood River, IL, 62095
Go to http://tilted-windmill.com/kwcb2019/ to see what classes are already planned; sign up to teach; suggest classes that you’d be interested in taking. Teachers still needed. Register Now!!!
Make checks payable to SCA – Barony of Shattered Crystal. Send reservations to:
Kenda Mc Cormack
4711 Culp Ln
Bethalto, IL, 62010 firstname.lastname@example.org
Lodging Options: We anticipate that most attendees will choose to camp. There is plenty of space available. There are no fees for camping. Bunk Space: We have a total of 32 bunks available (16 top and 16 bottom) at $5 each for the weekend. Pre-reg for bunks with paid registration fees. Hotel options listed on the website. http://tilted-windmill.com/kwcb2019/
Accessibility: This is a primitive site. The indoor bathrooms are handicapped-accessible. Beyond that, we’re working under 1800s-like conditions.
Electrical Availability: Electricity is in very short supply. The entire site runs on two breakers. There are plans to augment that slightly with a small solar farm. This should help out with recharging small electronics – cell phones, camera batteries, and the like. We do not expect to be able to charge Larger devices such as CPAPs, marine batteries, or laptops on site.
Good greetings to the wonderful bards of Sylvan Æthelmearc! Their Majesties desire a competition be held at Kingdom XIIth Night to choose Their new Bardic Champion. The rules are simple: Anything goes, with two exceptions. The songs titled “Song of the Shield Wall” and “Born on the List Field” will not be considered. Tune your instruments (if you use them) and learn the words! So saith William.
Medievally speaking, what gets your creative juices flowing?
Is it getting your hands dirty making stuff?
Is it figuring out how things were done?
Delving into the when and where and why of medieval life?
Is it learning something you didn’t know before?
Is it learning more about something that intrigues you?
If you answered “YES!” to any of these questions, consider teaching at Æthelmearc Æcademy and War College, hosted by the Shire of Ballachlagan (Wheeling, WV), on June 11.
So far, we have 25 classes (that’s 31 class-hours!) scheduled, on these topics: Bardic, Brewing, Clothing, Dance, Embroidery, Heraldry, History, Metalworking, Research, SCA Life, Scribal, Youth Track, War College — Fencing (for a listing of class titles and descriptions, please visit the Æcademy website).
But sadly, there are NO classes (yet) in Cooking, Equestrian Arts, or Fiber Arts. If you’ve never taught at Æcademy (or if it’s been a while), no problem! It’s easy to register — Just go to the Æcademy registration page and supply the requested information about yourself and your class.
If you’ve never taught a class (or have taught but are still a bit nervous about teaching), I have a solution! On Saturday of Æthelmearc War Practice, from 3 to 4 pm, I’ll be teaching a class called “Documentation to Class,” which will give you ideas to turn what you know into a successful class.
If you have signed up to teach at Pennsic, consider teaching at Æcademy as a “dress rehearsal.” Teaching in June will give you time to fine-tune your class. Plus, the feedback and experience will boost your confidence.
My topics for this final essay address the act of composition, the premise or perception that original music is in any way less desirable within the SCA than “authentic” music, and the idea that the Arts and Sciences authenticity standards by which bardic arts are judged have become disjointed from the authenticity standards of composition and performance that many bards are attempting to practice.
One of the frequent criticisms faced by bards within the greater Arts & Sciences community is that when a bard writes something original, by definition it is not a period piece. Regardless of how “close” it may sound in style or lyric structure, it was written in the 20th or 21st century, not the 14th. No matter how closely the composer observes the “rules” of Renaissance composition, or crafts lyrics that show no obvious signs of modernity, it cannot be an extant, first-degree Medieval or Renaissance piece.
Over the fifty-year history of the Society, a lot of time, trouble, and tearing of hair has been expended by musicians who attempt to get as close to period as possible. Those who do not attempt it, or who are more comfortable with more modern structures, are frequently called out for writing them, and told that the work they produce does not rate high on the authenticity scale because it doesn’t match up to those rules. Those who write contrafait using post-period music are often put in an even worse position.
There are two separate but related suppositions within that line of reasoning that I reject. The first is the idea that there is only one “rule” for writing music that “sounds” sufficiently Medieval. As I theorized in my previous article about Medieval “folk music,” this is similar to the history in the College of Heralds, where for a long time, Fox-Davies was the only test of whether heraldry was “period.” In the same way, the test that many people use to whether music sounds period boils down to a very narrow spectrum. There’s more to period music than western European, liturgical, and court forms. We really have no way to know just how much popular music out there sounded somewhat similar to many a piece written within the acoustic / historical folk genre today. While many did correspond to the “rules,” there are also examples of pieces that did not. It may never be possible to sort out a definitive proportion, meaning that the debate can’t be resolved for sure. Thus, the “rules” school of thinking locks in the opinion that Western European church or court music is the only acceptable sound for a period-approaching piece, when clearly there are other influences and culturally accessible sounds which can readily be used as the inspiration for new music.
The second flaw in the logical argument is that even Medieval music was new, back when it was first composed. Court and church composers were constantly evolving and expanding their understanding of musical mechanics, and consequently they were constantly trying new things, experimenting with and introducing different “sounds,” modes, rhythms, and melodic structures. It was not until decades later that these “rules” were codified. Scholars today often refer to pieces extant from period that signal tonal shifts in the development of music, “revolutions” that represent precious examples of changing practice. However, it is important to remember that as with other arts and sciences, a “revolution” did not necessarily mean a sudden sea change. In addition, the number of extant samples of music is likely a fraction of what was being performed, sung, heard and written within the scope of our period. Bear in mind that some combination of chance and circumstance is vital to the preservation of most of the pieces we have. If only one example of a particularly exciting and different sort of piece survives, that may mean that it was completely unique for its time and that no one else ever composed to that model–or it may mean that it was part of a fad, or that it was merely the lucky winner of the preservation lottery because it was a “best” example or the “first” of its kind. Even if it is the only one of its type, it’s still acceptable for a modern artist to emulate the style, or to use it to inspire something else similar.
The reason these fallacies are important to expose is that they form pervasive standards against which the bardic arts are held. What is perplexing is that those standards are not applied in the same manner to other arts. We do expect cooks to redact recipes from period sources, but we also acknowledge that there are certain dishes which must be modified or updated in order to appeal to a modern feast-going audience. We do not expect them, however, to work with foodstuffs that we know will be unpalatable. We do expect clothiers to work from paintings, patterns, or extant examples of period styles of clothing, but we acknowledge that there are multiple garments for various classes, cultures, occasions, and climates. We expect them to choose natural fibers, but we would not actually expect them to work with 500-year-old cloth – nor would we expect them to use silk brocade to construct a working peasant’s garb. So why should we expect bards to work exclusively with 400-year-old or older music – and highly specialized music at that?
Bards were many things throughout the history and cultures that the SCA encompasses. They were singers, they were composers, they were instrumental musicians. They were storytellers and poets, whose job was not only to remember and recite the old stories, but to commemorate current events by immortalizing people, places, and occurrences. They were observers of nature and interpreters of the natural world. They could be lorekeepers, but also lawkeepers, and they were frequently privileged to speak truth with varying levels of protection from retaliation by members of higher rank or station. They settled disputes, they entertained courts and crowds, and they advocated for the social covenants that governed the communities they served. And not insignificantly, they performed their own work and the works of contemporaries in addition to the repertoire of those who came before. Note, not all cultures’ bards were all of these things, and not all bards within all cultures fulfilled all these capacities, but I think it’s fair to stipulate that SCA bards often present a conglomeration of those roles in their contribution to the SCA. Yet too frequently, they are not judged as embodiments of this particular art, but heavily judged on their material. In other words, there are period versions of a lot of different types of bards, and crafting one’s art to fit into one (or more) of those models is, in itself, an act of artistic accomplishment and worth consideration as its own separate category.
I would argue that whether our bardic community is writing to period or period-modal music is only one consideration among many in terms of accomplishment within the scope of bardic arts as they apply to the SCA. Why? Because almost alone among the arts practiced within the Society, the bards have the ability to embody authenticity not only through the forms they use, but in the acts of recording, preserving, reinterpreting, and presenting a window onto the Current Middle Ages. Their covenant is one that also includes firm grounding in the legends, histories, and traditions that inform, inspire, and engage the Society and its membership. The question may not be, “Does such-and-so perform period music / compose period-sounding music?” (or even, “Does such-and-so write period-perfect poetry?”) so much as it is, “Does such-and-so embody the spirit of bardic art, and propagate the bardic canon according to the precepts of that model?”
Does this mean they have no responsibility to “be medieval”? No, not at all. Bards must still be judged by and held to the same standards as other arts within the SCA–namely, that we must make “an attempt” to be authentic, and that authenticity is one of many components within the spectrum of accomplishment that make up the whole sum of a given artist’s skill and facility with their chosen form. But court and church rules are not the sole measuring stick of “medievalness”—nor do they necessarily provide a comprehensive definition of what is or was authentic.
The act of transforming our exploits into tales of glory heightens those feats and puts them on a spectrum with historical tales (such as the Song of Roland), with legends (such as Arthurian mythology), and with historical political commentary and editorializing (such as the long tradition of Scottish protest songs, many of which date to period or just-post period). Songs like “Bow to the Crown” immortalize our traditions and more importantly teach why those traditions exist. Retelling the legends, myths, and historical incidents in new ways keeps them fresh, alive, and relevant. Pieces that capture moments, observations, and feelings, rather than relate a specific narrative, also represent a period practice. More importantly, they provide a point of view which is informed by the experiences of individuals in the SCA–frequently as a direct result of some activity that they pursue or some event they witnessed. All of these compositions remind both the new member and the SCA veteran what is appealing about participating in the SCA, what ideals to uphold and for which to strive, and what might have drawn us to the Society in the first place.
Remember the principles I have been promoting for successful performance:
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 hear and understand the performance.
These guidelines govern the composition of a piece, as well. Thus, for the SCA bard who composes, the singular most important consideration is whether they are capturing the spirit of the incident, feeling, mood, or person they are writing about. The form they choose, whether it’s a story, a poem, a ballad or a drinking song, should be considered analogous to the fabric a seamstress might choose for a given garment. It should be able to successfully execute the second principle, which is to carry the listener to the emotional state desired. Or, to put it the way Stephen Sondheim does: Content dictates Form.
If the use of a period tune or format interferes with the composer’s ability to create a piece that will carry the audience to the desired emotional space, then the problem could either be that the composer’s not ready to write that piece, or that it could be the wrong tune or format to use for that particular project. If using a period form will have audiences concentrating more on the form itself, and less on the content, then they are failing to pay attention and thus may not understand the piece. If the composer’s grasp of the form is insufficient, then the product will be inferior, and again, it should not be used until the composer can do a credible job. The author is fighting the form, in these cases, and thus the result will feel forced or insincere. That’s not to say no one should ever stretch or set an ambitious goal; merely that it takes practice and dedication, and sometimes the moment requires a solution with more expediency.
There are, of course, times when the performer does not want to call attention to the performance. Playing ambient music, or providing background entertainment during a party or vigil or similar venue, it’s more important to set the mood than to grandstand. But, I am speaking primarily of the type of bardic performance where it behooves the performer to put on a show.
Finally, there’s another important and essential reason why it’s neither reasonable nor necessary for bards to tie themselves in knots writing exclusively “period” music: Writing music for use in the SCA is, in itself, a spectrum. Sometimes authors are writing pieces that have to bridge more than one type of audience, with different tolerance for more unfamiliar formats. Sometimes the melody that comes or the words that fit just don’t correspond to a particular Medieval mode of writing. Sometimes the attempt to force the form results in a song or poem that just isn’t any good, and needs to be discarded in favor of something that works better. When that happens to result in something that can’t be discretely documented, then the artist probably shouldn’t enter it into an A&S competition–but that does not, in my opinion, mean that the piece itself is automatically disqualified from being an “attempt” at period.
Am I advocating a departure from period music? Absolutely not! Bards should certainly be familiar with period music and poetry! They should have period pieces in their repertoire, and I believe the more one learns, the more one finds to learn. And the more one listens to period forms, the more one’s own composition efforts will be able to imitate that sound. But, even if it never leads to more “period-sounding” music, I still submit that that is often a secondary goal. The primary goal for many bards is to be conversant in the canon of sung and spoken word pieces that apply to the milieu of the SCA. That means being able to come up with authentic period music on demand. But it also means that the canon of a well-versed bard should include the works of SCA virtuosos such as Leslie Fish, Heather Alexander, Joe Betancourt, Michael Longcor, Bob Charron, Heather Dale, Arthur McLean, Scott Vaughan, Ken and Lisa Theriot, and dozens and dozens more. These are the songs and poems of our own history, and their work has shaped who we are as a Society just as much as work from hundreds of years ago.
With all that in mind, I propose that the debate about bards who write period material, or do not, is one in need of reframing. Bards are not necessarily Early Music scholars, nor should that be the requirement at any level of recognition. Bardic artists are not necessarily practitioners of period music composition, and nor should they be judged merely on that basis. They are practitioners of a different art – namely, the art of acquiring, learning, performing, teaching, and propagating all the types of music, poetry, and story that have been created to enhance the fabric of the Society, from period on up to today.
Before I go on, let me just say: There are many highly accomplished bards in our midst who are *also* highly accomplished period scholars in a particular area, such as “Arthurian legend” or “Norse studies” or “Renaissance poetry” or “Celtic culture.” There are even bards who are *also* qualified Early Music Scholars! What I am talking about is a different aspect of their skill, one that emphasizes their knowledge about performing and choosing what to perform.
Judging a bard on this basis, therefore, does not begin and end with the question of composition or authenticity. It should place emphasis on the skill with which they choose venue, select or create their pieces to suit that venue, pick their moments, and move their audiences through their selections. The question should concern itself with the depth and breadth of repertoire, including the ability to change gears, when needed, from period to SCA-original to a well-timed current reference. If they do compose music, and are to be judged on what they write, then the question of authenticity should apply as much to the construction of their music and lyrics as it does to the effect those compositions create. For example, if it’s a dance tune, does it fit the type of dance? If it’s a quiet mood piece, does it blend into the background while still creating a pleasant atmosphere? If it’s a show-stopper, does it live up to the expectation of the crowd? Writing in period styles need not be a prerequisite, but rather an additional, extra level of skill.
But I Still Hate Filk! I hear you cry.
Well…unfortunately, that’s a matter of taste, and potentially of appropriateness, not necessarily of whether the contrafait the bard performs is “authentic” because it’s not a period tune. To me, it’s a question of perspective–are we judging authentic practice, or authentic source material? In fact, one could argue that if one considers an expanded definition of “authentic” for the bardic arts, then the period practices of a skilled bard would support a newer song. A contrafait written to an obscure centuries-old tune, for example, might be considered a less authentic practice, because in period, a bard likely would have chosen a more popular or timely tune, one that everyone is already humming, on which to hang a modified lyric.
Besides, as I said in my article on contrafait, it’s deceptively difficult to write a really good one – and when it’s really, really good, and it’s used effectively, then rarely is there objection. The important question about using a contrafait tune is the venue in which one plans to use it, and sensitivity to whether using it will break the wall of immersion for the other people within earshot. Obviously, the brighter the spotlight on the performer, the more important it is to be sensitive to the piece’s qualities (e.g., its humor/gravitas, its obscurity/recognizability, its timeliness or its importance, or even the way in which the original informs the adaptation). These factors govern what will make the moment, or mar it. If the venue is one that values documentable authenticity more highly than any other factor, then a modern contrafait is likely to bomb no matter how clever it is. If the singer is only singing for a very select group of people who love the genre of the original source material, then it’s likely to go reasonably well assuming it’s performed well.
Ultimately, it all comes down to the performance, and the frame in which we as members of the Society choose to view the performing artist.
Again, this is a delicate balance I am drawing, here, and it’s easy to be mistaken for excuses or arguing that we don’t need any standards of authenticity when it comes to the bardic arts. Nothing could be further from the case. We still subscribe to a conceit that we are recreating the Middle Ages, with the clothing, food, activities, and amenities that would have been available between 600 and 1600 CE. We are still striving to immerse ourselves in an enviroment that consciously sets aside the modern. Bards must and should be cognizant of that. In their performances, they should strive as well to reduce the intrusion of the modern onto the medieval. I don’t expect a modern contrafait to score high in an Arts and Sciences competition based on its source of melody, or to exempt bards from any attempt to remove obvious modern references that tax the listener’s willing suspension of disbelief. Bards who refuse to play the game are just as culpable in their offenses as other types of “bad bards” who do not respect their audience or the venues in which they perform.
I do, however, believe that parts of the SCA have moved the needle, if you will, too far to the side of “period-and-nothing-but” whether inside or outside of A&S competition. Most particularly, I submit that what they perceive to mean “period” may be in need of adjustment and expansion, because it is often considered only within the narrowest of definitions. Those definitions have limits which are often too proscriptive when they are applied to the theory and practice of the bardic craft within the milieu of the SCA.
Throughout the course of this series, I’ve tried to expose the reader to the state of the Bardic Arts. I’ve discussed how to listen, participate, and encourage bards to improve. I’ve provided definitions of types of music found in the SCA. I’ve given a technical lesson on the sound of Medieval music and discussed why that sound is perhaps a very small percent of what music really sounded like. I hope that I’ve shed some light on the standards by which bards judge each other – and the standards by which I believe they should be judged.
Thank you for reading along and for all the comments I’ve received from many of you. I hope this is not the end of the conversation! Please consider checking out the classes and symposium at Pennsic, attend a bardic circle (or just get some singing going at an event), and especially, find me or my fellow bards and let’s have fun!
Before I sign off, I wish to thank Duke Titus and Countess Anna Leigh for having selected me as their Sylvan Bard during their reign. I offer my heartfelt congratulations and best wishes to Master William de Montegilt for succeeding me at 12th night last month. He knows the role of Kingdom Bard well and will, I am certain, continue to bring our Kingdom wordfame through his performances and his encouragement of other performers. It was my great honor and privilege to serve over the past year as Æthelmearc’s Champion for, and of, the Bardic Arts.
 Except in circumstances where it is impossible, impractical, or unattainable, for the intended purpose.
 In “Finishing the Hat,” Stephen Sondheim’s first volume of collected annotated lyrics (Knopf, 2010), he cites his three rules for lyric-writing: “1. Content dictates form; 2. Less is more; 3. God is in the details; all in the service of Clarity, without which, nothing else matters.” Rules to live by, indeed.
 There’s an exception to every rule. There is amazing, excellent contrafait to period music that is still relevant and fun to sing; and as we all know, there’s plenty of contrafait to modern music that misses its mark. Conversely, there’s a lot of modern stuff out there that does not make good filk. See my Filk Article for more on this.
The Kingdom Bard, Brehyres Gwendolyn the Graceful, sends this announcement,
Remember that you still have a few days to prepare for the Sylvan Bard Championship! As previously mentioned, Their Majesties’ wish is to celebrate Saturnalia at Kingdom Twelfth Night this weekend with pieces about the sun, light, the turn of the season and return of daytime, and/or candles or lights as sources of knowledge.
The competition begins at 1:30 but performers are welcome to gather at 1:00 pm to hang out and sing.
I hope to see many gentles at Kingdom Twelfth Night this weekend to participate and to support each other as we determine our next Sylvan Bard.
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.