Master Remus Fletcher of the Barony-Marche of the Debatable Lands (Ron Schwoegl) passed away on December 18th after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.
Master Remus is probably best known as a musician, but his SCA career was long and varied. He joined the SCA in the early 1980s and was a heavy weapons fighter for many years, squired to Syr Vykor of Wales. After receiving his AoA in A.S. XVIII, he was inducted into the East Kingdom’s Order of High Merit for fighting, the Tygers Combatant, in A.S. XXI. His skill on the field of combat was also recognized with the Red Comet of the Debatable Lands. He served a term as Knight Marshal of the Debatable Lands.
In addition to combat, Remus spent much of his time in the SCA supporting the work of his lady wife, Mistress Amaryllis Coleman. A Physician’s Assistant in her modern life, she served as a chirurgeon at many levels in the SCA, including a term as East Kingdom Chirurgeon and several as Pennsic War Chirurgeon. Mistress Ts’vee’a bas Tseepora Levi recalls that Master Remus assisted in various ways, including “transporting supplies for Chirurgeon’s Point and Waterbearers for many years. That service… was a large part of why he was inducted into the Order of the Pelican.” His former protégé, Lord Edmundo da Monreale, recalls “When it came to service, [Remus] inspired me to look for needs and meet them as quietly as possible.”
Throughout that time, Remus was also promoting music in his barony and Kingdom. Marat She’erah bat Shlomo says, “Remus encouraged music and was sometimes a one-person source of ambience. He was happy to put instruments in people’s hands and teach.” In the 1980s, “before there was a Debatable Consort, Remus showed up at fighting practice with packets of photocopied music and a bag of recorders and the Consort grew from that. He was friendly and welcoming to all.” Remus was a founding member of both the Debatable Consort and the Debatable Quartet (later the Debatable Choir).
Remus also had a prodigious tenor voice which he used both in the SCA and as the cantor for his church. Mistress Sol la Cantor remembers “Remus was one of the first people that I knew in the SCA in Pittsburgh. I was ‘his soprano’. We sang John Dowland songs together. I was able to do music with Remus in both the Debatable Consort and Debatable Quartet. We traveled to West Virginia and Ohio to share music for demos and dance events. Once, we were chatting with others at a Thursday night dance practice… and I was talking with my hands. Gently, he put one hand over mine and lowered them down. I was struck dumb, unable to speak without my hands. Remembering that still makes me chuckle. I am a better person for having known him.”
THLady Rachel Dalicieux says “War Practice 2004 was maybe my second or third event, and I was questioning my wisdom in attending when I saw a man with a number of cool looking musical instruments. A Band Geek through and through, I said hello and talked for a bit, and before I knew it I’d grabbed my modern flute from my car trunk and sat down to play recorder music. I felt welcome and at home…and vindicated that I’d found a safe space where my talents were appreciated. Over the years we talked together and played together many times. I was glad to call him friend.”
That habit of playing music and teaching others to play in all kinds of venues lasted through his entire life; he was still regularly bringing instruments and music to Debatable Lands fighter practices in the summer of 2019, before the pandemic ended almost all SCA activities.
Remus was also known for his dry sense of humor and his penchant for whimsy, ranging from wearing a bear suit in the heat of Pennsic while playing fife and drum because he’d read that was what real buskers did in the Middle Ages, to putting on puppet shows with his son Daniel O’Rian (who was later named the Principal of the Order of the Silver Sycamore for his performances), to juggling and performing other acts of silliness. Lord Edmundo recounts “I had the great honor to be protégé to Master Remus. I think my main qualification was my willingness to have a contract ceremony based on a classic lazzi by the Brothers Marx from “A Night at the Opera.” When performing, Remus most loved to be part of an ensemble, and loved to bring as many people into the act as possible, whether encouraging a tone-deaf protégé or handing a spinning plate to anyone who stood still too long. Of course his favorite collaborator was his son Daniel in their little red pageant wagon.”
In recognition of that love of whimsy, at a Baronial Birthday event in July of A.S. XXXIV, King Cygnus and Queen Dorinda called Remus into court and commanded him to spin a plate for the duration of the court. Always game, he acceded to their request; then at the end of that court he received a Writ of Summons for the Order of the Pelican. He was elevated to the Pelican a month later, at Pennsic XXVIII.
One of Remus’ many delights was in mentoring and encouraging artisans and musicians. He served as Baronial and Kingdom Minister of Arts and Sciences, as well as Chancellor of the Ӕthelmearc Ӕcademy. Those offices gave him many opportunities to recognize artistic excellence in Society members. He often gifted gentles with folly bells (also known as jingle bells) as his token when he admired their work or served as a judge at an A&S competition. He was also known for regularly sending information to people about things he thought would interest them – links to videos of music performances, information about medieval instruments for sale, or just amusing anecdotes relating to our SCA activities.
Mistress Aleea Baga notes “Remus was a true patron of the arts. He encouraged me with my enameling. When he was given his writ for the Pelican he commissioned me to make his collar of state with all of his SCA awards. In part this was so that others in the kingdom could see my work. I have tried to pay this forward by supporting other artists.”
Remus was a connoisseur and collector of unusual medieval instruments. One of the places he could best indulge that love was in a music ensemble at Pennsic called the “Loud Band.” These musicians, not satisfied with mere recorders or fiddles, play instruments ranging from brass like the sackbut (a medieval variant of the trombone) to woodwinds like the cornetto and shawm, to bagpipes and the somewhat indescribable serpent, shown in the photo below. After Pennsic 44, Master Remus wrote an article for the Ӕthelmearc Gazette about the Loud Band, describing its history and activities. He had regular discussions with like-minded musicians; THLady Siri Toivosdottir of the Midrealm, who worked with Master Remus on the Medieval Music Expo at several Pennsics, says “Of course he was very enthusiastic about performing on the serpent. We talked about the Louds I wanted to get, and he offered some good advice about reputable vendors. He called me in June and we talked for quite a while; he was excited that he had just found a Great Bass Rosewood Kelhorn and knew I wanted one as well, [so] he promised to keep an eye out for me.”
Remus and Amaryllis were also well known for their generosity. Mistress Caitlyn FitzRobert says “I have been friends with Remus for over 30 years. After my first couple of years in the SCA my interest in costume brought me into the orbit of his oh so generous wife, Amaryllis. Through Amaryllis, I found the SCA family I would be part of to this day. And Remus was there, always. [At Pennsic] I camped with We Happy Few. One night it rained THROUGH the roof of my tent. Remus let me sleep in their pavilion that night. He was our land agent for all those years and I was always part of We Happy Few even when Pennsic became too much for my health. I will miss my friend.”
Mistress Katerina Affodil recalls “He was a silent philanthropist and conscientious humanitarian. He’d adopt an artist or a group and pour his resources into it. He’d share knowledge and contacts and financially back as best he could their every endeavor. In the Society, he taught and shared his vast collection of period instruments. He didn’t stick around to garner praise for sharing his talents to produce ambience, be it as a busker and street performer or a musician and singer at court, either. “Good service is invisible,” he’d say. On a purely personal note, he was such a great friend to me. He called to check on me when no one else did. He understood my anxiety when it rained and listened without judgement. He bought and gifted my books, though horror was hardly his genre of choice. He was generous to a fault.”
Remus and Amaryllis were particularly appreciative of the scribal community. Mistress Ysabeau Tiercelin was assigned a joint Court Barony scroll for them in A.S. XLIII by King Christopher and Queen Morgen. She recalls “They sent me a lovely thank you note, a large piece of parchment and a gift card to buy supplies. I never met him, but their kindness and appreciation for the scribal arts stayed with me until this day and encouraged me to keep on with my efforts.” Other scribes report similar thoughtful gifts from Remus and Amaryllis in thanks for their work.
Not surprisingly, he also loved children. Mistress Katerina says “Many remember his now-grown son as a little boy in his Daddy’s back carrier or pulled through the Pennsic heat in a tricked-out wagon. Scout Leader, Game Master, Turtle and “Tommy Cat” keeper, this good father and Godfather adopted many to his heart.” Count Byron of Haverford and Countess Ariella of Thornbury remember “At Pennsic XLIII, we were trying to find something fun for our 3 kids to do. Leah and Ian would gamely try archery and thrown weapons, but Joshua has always been tougher to engage in the SCA. His love of music (and low brass instruments in particular) has been the only thing to really drag him in. Remus understood this better than anyone else in the Society, and who better to entertain someone who loves musical instruments? Thus, we were thankful to see Master Remus’ Medieval Instruments class on the schedule. We straggled in a bit late and tried to find a seat at the back of the class, just as Remus started to show off his new serpent. The serpent is a late-medieval instrument that is terribly difficult to play, and even harder to play well. But that’s not the sort of thing Remus wanted the audience to take away from his class, so he told the crowd that this was an easy instrument for anyone to just pick up and play. He glanced through the audience as if searching randomly, then settled on Joshua. “How about you? Do you want to give it a try?” he called, and Joshua eagerly hurried forward. To everyone’s shock, Joshua sat down and began to play the serpent with perfect pitch. Remus had the entire class believing that any random teen could play [the instrument] his beloved wife, Mistress Amaryllis, called ‘The Dying Water Buffalo’.”
Master Remus was known for his great kindness; many people referred to him as “Uncle” Remus. Mistress Katerina says he “had a heart bigger than his hug. To paint him would be to use the brightest colors, like his smiley face badge.” Baron Brandubh o Donnghaile and Baroness Hilderun Hugelmann of the Debatable Lands recall “His presence and voice would fill the room, and he was always eager to lend a helping hand wherever needed, but especially to us newer folks. He had a keen wit, and his eyes rarely stopped sparkling, looking for the next sly joke or terrible pun. Hilda remembers him introducing himself as “Remus T. Fletcher… the ‘T’ stands for ‘the’…” followed by his full laughter. Her favorite memory of him is the moving and romantic aria he sang as the processional to his wife, Mistress Amaryllis’, Peerage elevation ceremony. Brandubh remembers his great love of music. He was always happy to fill the halls and Courts with music.”
Above all, however, the defining element of his life was Remus’ immense love for his wife. He made sure that she, and everyone else, knew how much he cherished her. Mistress Katerina says “He adored his beautiful and accomplished bride, my Mistress Amaryllis. Since I consider this beautiful woman a sister of my heart, that made Ron my brother, and I’ll always be grateful for the time I had with him.”
Dame Aoife Finn of Ynos Mon wrote on Facebook: “Remus Fletcher was the melody, the harmony, the baritone, and every strange and gentle wind instrument known, which he both collected and played. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him. Rest in harmony, friend, and flights of angels sing thee to thy sleep. Gloria in excelsis.”
Of Ron and Remus
by Mistress Katerina Affodil
Through family’s love and cancerous cry
A troubadour answered celestial call
After a life well lived he bid goodbye
And entered his Father’s heavenly hall.
Dressed once as a bear or in blue and whites
Teaching, ringing bells, and balancing plates
Retired squire with chivalrous fights
Master Remus others oft elevates.
Fletcher, bringer of bells, singer of songs,
Good father, Godfather, loving husband,
Officer, encourager, for peace longed
Prayer partner, witty intellect, oft punned.
As thou didst in life, speak thee fair in death
Sing thee well sweet songs upon angel breath.
The Heavenly Choir is swelled, as into its loving embrace, a glorious tenor lends his voice and sings praises to our King.
Master Remus’ obituary is available at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website. Note from the obituary: There will be a future memorial service held in his honor on his next birthday, granted all COVID restrictions are lifted. In lieu of flowers or gifts, donations can be made to Holy Family Parish, as the Church and our Heavenly Father were Ron’s first love.
Ron was very adamant that everyone remain safe during the COVID pandemic, and therefore there will be no visitation hours. A Latin Funeral Mass will be held on Tuesday, December 22, 2020, 10:00 a.m. at St. John Baptist Catholic Church in Plum, PA, with a livestream here: https://holyfamilypgh.org/weddings-funerals-covid-19