[Bards] Performance in the SCA

TheSpatlord@aol.com TheSpatlord at aol.com
Fri Jan 24 23:22:21 PST 2003

In a message dated 1/24/03 11:03:01 PM Central Standard Time, mot at swbell.net

  "I have never participated in a performance-oriented
 competition in the SCA where documentation is
 required.      I'm posting this message to solicit
 from all of you, and especially those who judge these
 competitions, what we are striving for in the SCA as
 far as performance and where the line is between
 entertainment value and periodicity in both
 competition and SCA music/performance in general."

Heh...welcome to one of the biggest issues you will face as a performer in
the SCA, chasing that oh-so indistinct line between audience enthusiasm and
historic accuracy. My further comments, I should note, are all solely MY
opinion and experience. Having prefaced all my responses with that
disclaimer, let me start by saying that the very act of asking where that
line is located is an indication, to me at least, of a dedicated and
passionate artist. You aren't alone, either. Many performers struggle with

 "I looked up the A&S judging form for Performance. I'm
 not sure if this is the method that is always used for
 competition but it seemed a good starting point."

Quick side note...No, they are not always used in competitions, but buckle in
nevertheless. They are becoming far more common.

 form lists the following categories:

 Documentation (10 pts.) How well does the
 documentation support the categories below?

 Authenticity of Piece/Style (10 pts.) Was the piece
 either created in period or created using period
 form(s); how well does the performance follow period

 Complexity / Difficulty of Piece (5 pts.) How
 difficult is the piece to prepare and perform?

 Technical Skill (10 pts) Elements - Blocking,
 choreography, timing, in tune, in rhythm, elocution,
 diction , projection, Volume, harmony, blending.

 Presentation and Interpretation (10 pts.) Movement,
 bearing, flourishes, manner, creativity,
 ornamentation, introduction, grooming, appropriate

 Overall Impression (5 pts.) Wow appeal, audience
 reaction, emotional engagement.

 I've started to do some research in my area of
 interest (Folk Music of the British Isles) to better
 understand  how to perform and document "period form
 and style" and also whether or not this period style
 would have any presentation and "wow" appeal.

 I've discovered that, documentation-wise, building a
 case for pre-1600 is not easy. I could support my
 songs being sung in the 17th and 18th centuries
 because that's when people began to write "folk" music
 down. If you go with the definition of folk music
 being not "formally composed" and passed on via the
 oral tradition, you can understand the problem with
 early documentation! I found a list of English songs
 that are documented as being from my period. It's a
 very small list - it's not always known what tunes
 were used. They are written in an archaic (to me,
 unintelligible) English which, if revised to modern
 English, would no longer fit period-style rhyme and
 meter. Some period songs have over 400 verses! I'd be
 very tempted to make these songs more palatable to the
 modern ear and attention span in performance."

 There are a number of options, one of which IS merely performing a segment
of the piece if it's epic in length. Another option would be to break the
performance up into segments.
A third option would be to become familiar enough with period styles that you
can compose your own works, works that are grounded in good historical style,
even putting words to other melodies that are period, while using the
documentation form to enlighten a judge as to what you are doing and why you
made the choices you did. If audience appeal and presentation are on the
forms (and they are), then they are just as important as historic accuracy
and research, and should be given consideration. Most judges understand that
most of our time period is thin on music, especially "folk" music, as much of
it is ecclesiastical or in a language you may not be fluent in.
 The crux of the matter is period (an actual piece from the era) versus a
period-style piece. Period-style can be achieved by understanding those
rhymes and meters and composing your own stuff using those techniques...and
no, it's not easy. Those who have grasped Welsh meter, or Norse saga style,
or monastic plainsong have well-earned reputations.

 "In the area of performance style, when I studied folk
 music in college I learned that the "traditional"
 singer (in our American tradition, at least) does not
 sing with any emotion but rather serves as the channel
 for the piece and not as its interpreter. I saw an
 example of this style in a film documentary. The
 singer kept a very deadpan face. He spoke the title of
 the song, sang it very straight-forwardly without
 emoting and, at the end, repeated the title. Watching
 his performance I did not find him to have "flourish"
 or "wow appeal" though his style was authentic. I
 found it interesting to see and learn about but I
 would tend to add the emotional content to keep the
 attention of my modern audience."

Style is another matter. I am familiar with the dead-pan folksinging style in
England and America. I don't mind it, IF the piece is sung with sincerity AND
the piece has meaning to me. Meaning to me? Yeah, very subjective standard.
 I think adding some feeling to a song has merit. Granted, I don't mean
William Shatner singing "Barbara Allen", but I do mean expression, easy
gestures. Documenting performance style may prove extremely difficult.
Usually songs are described as beautiful, moving, proud, etc...but the
motions and facial expressions of the performers are rarely mentioned.
Illustrations, however, do indicate some passion and gesturing on the part of
many singers throughout art. Actually researching various postures and
gestures in art might be something to consider. If you do that, write
everything down and make copies! I want that!
 Otherwise, there is a lot of guesswork and calculation out there. A
Tudor-era noble might stand, hands clasped, and sing pure notes and words
like bell tones, while a Dark Ages warrior may lean on a spear and sing to
his fellows very intimately. We, as an SCA audience, buy both concepts and
embrace them as representative of their respective cultures and times.

 "Here are my questions/discussion points:

 ***If it turns out his deadpan style holds true for
 folk singers in period, would the entrant receive more
 points or less for singing this way?? I'm guessing to
 the modern eye and ear he would not score well on the
 last three criteria on the form. Which audience-appeal
 palate are we rating against? The modern appeal or
 it's appeal in period?***"

Well, in a perfect world, the modern SCA audience has it's tastes rooted
firmly in the medieval period, but I have a hunch that you and I both know
better. This is where the performer has the burden of education. Use your
documentation to illustrate what you are doing, and take a brief few seconds
to fall into the stance and posture you consider accurate and appropriate. If
done with sincerity and used with a song of significance, the SCA audience
will follow along, and love you for that brief moment of suspension.
Sincerity and significance are subjective, and therefore up to you to

 ***Is documentation always a requirement in
 performance  competition? Is it written or an oral

I would be prepared for it, and have all of your pieces backed up with some
research on paper. In days gone by, a simple oral explanation sufficed, and
some explanations were great introductions to the pieces performed. These
days, the curiousity for "what it really sounded like" is given more serious
consideration, and "Barrett's Privateer's" is losing ground to the Child

 ***I'm curious about the competitions held to pick
 bards for Baronies or a Kingdom. I served in the
 Baronial capacity once but through an entirely
 difference mechanism. Are the performers judged on how
 entertaining the general SCA public might find them or
 will they serve more as educators, promoting perhaps a
 less generally appealing, but more authentic, style of

That depends on the Barony or shire. Some locales want to see research, some
want the crowd-pleaser, some want a combination. Here in Namron, the Baron
chooses his bard on personal preference, but that preference is rooted in
research and crowd appeal equally. Period pieces are rare and treasured,
heart-wrenching or knee-slapping pieces are well-loved. A period piece that
is heart-wrenching or a knee-slapper? Wow.

 ***What are we striving for as performers in the SCA?
 Is our role to help create an atmosphere (perhaps a
 bit Hollywood-esque) that contributes to the "feel" of
 the Current Middle Ages? Or are we to be serious
 scholars placing more emphasis on an attempt to
 recreate an authentic period rendition of performance?
  Is there a place for both?***

The answer is the hardest of them all, your last suggested possibility. It is
When I started I was a filker, a BAD filker, modern-songs-off-the-radio
filker. When a crowd asked me to do one of those modern filks, and they were
calling my name and cheering for that song, I was in paradise. Yet, I ruined
the ambience of one Lady there, a Duchess no less, and I was horrified. Since
that day, 12 years have passed, and I have come to realize that the goal of
SCA performers is to create those little moments of magic that are so eagerly
sought at each event. Performers, like no one else, can make time fade and
reality blur. That is not a hobby, thats an occupation. However, in each
audience, scholars and students sit side-by-side with enthusiastic newcomers
and rowdy revelers with nary a care for accuracy. The only way to win them
both is to immerse yourself completely into your piece. Know it, know how it
was performed, perform it honestly and with depth if you can't document how
it was performed, and let your love of each piece show in your performance.
If you do that, even a deadpan expression will astonish the crowd.
 Try to be as faithful to history as you can, that is the intention of the
SCA, but never exchange faith with your audience for it. Instead, mix them
both equally. Don't ask me how I do that specifically. I play a ninth century
Irishman with a penchant for storytelling. My methods will not be your
methods. Besides, I'm still learning.

 Input appreciated!

I don't know if my input helped or flustered you, but again, welcome to the
hunt. Hang on, it's gonna be a long ride...

~H.L. Finnican


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