[Bards] Questions on Documentation from a bard trying to learn new tricks

Bella sorrowsong at cox.net
Thu Jan 8 20:03:29 PST 2004

Wow, this is a hot topic. I know I stated before that documentation is
something that I'm not used to and a bit intimidating and I can see pros and

While I expect the bardic Laurels to have an idea on period styles, I would
certainly not expect a late period English bard to have extensive knowledge
of early Norse poetry. So I can appreciate the need for information.

I noticed there were differing types of documentation turned in for the
competition ranging from short summaries like mine to what looked a bit like
term themes. I've seen the same thing with the static arts and noticed there
that the term theme definitely gets the points, the judging forms look a bit
like they lean that way too but it may just be my interpretation. There were
also differing levels of introductions to the pieces, from a brief statement
of author and title to polished, well-rehearsed flourished introductions
giving histories.

Eisteddfod was something completely new to me and very different from what I
was used to. The competitions I had previously been in had generally been
non-documented and leaned towards verbal introductions some of which were
done out of persona and some of which were in persona. It's been a subject
of past debate among the Northern bards as to which of these types was
better. I think alot of it depends on the setting. At most competitions with
audiences of mixed levels of interest in the bardic arts I have noticed
introductions that were done out of persona tended to lose the interest of
people almost immediately leaving the performer to try to recapture the
audience right off. There didn't seem to be a problem with that at
Eisteddfodd as there were few in attendance and all seemed to be very
attentive to the performances (thank you SO much to all who were there for
that, with all the other sounds we were competing against in the background
your attentiveness was VERY much appreciated). I don't know if that is
usually the case or not.

I have very mixed feelings about documentation. I appreciate that we are
educators as well as entertainers, and I find learning new information about
the history of music/poetry/storytelling fascinating, but as a listener I
would rather hear a wonderful performance that may or may not be
documentable that captures the spirit of the past, than an extremely
well-documented piece that is moderately or poorly performed (might I add
that was not a problem last weekend as the performances were all amazing and
I am still astounded ). And if it is judged with equal emphasis on both
documentation and performance they might be judged evenly even though the
effect on the audience was anything but equal. I suppose I think that while
documentation is a good thing, I still feel it should take second place to
the effect of the performance. Was it written in period? Maybe, maybe not.
Did I FEEL like I was sitting in a hall amid fire or candles glow listening
to a bard or a minstrel or skald? That's what I have valued most.

At the same time I have begun researching more recently than I have ever
done and it has led me to find new pieces that I never knew existed. And
that is a wonderful thing. And I find myself feeling challenged again and it
has generated an all new interest at a point in my life when I needed a new
challenge and a new direction. And I think in the long run the more I learn
the better I become as a bard.

The problem I have found in researching however is how few songs have
survived particularly from my persona's home of Ireland. Some of the words
still exist, most of them are in Gaelic and alot of them lose something in
translation, but the music has long been lost. This is a problem for me as I
am predominently a singer, it is my strength and the way I feel I can move
people the most. Also, the Irish, as with several other cultures, believed
in the oral tradition. So there are many songs in existance which may very
well have existed in period that cannot be documented earlier than the
mid-1600s or later because no one wrote them down. I have found several
English songs that I can document, but do I get points taken away for not
performing pieces that are in the language or style of my persona? Or is it
enough that I have done the research and know what can or cannot be
documented and try to capture the heart of the time as much as I am able?

Also, I have seen contradicting dates on so many things. One writer is
certain that a song was written on such and such date while still another
dates it almost a hundred years later. Both seem reputable sources, but who
do you believe? Obviously if it was actually published and put on record
during period that would make it period, but if someone at a later date
wrote that it was written at a prior date?

I did some research on the music of another culture and read that the words
to their songs exist but all the music was lost, but someone had put the
words to music that was in a style documentable to period in a neighboring
culture and they gave all sorts of information that probably made more sense
to a music scholar, and I found myself thinking oh my gosh, is this what I
have to do to document my pieces? I would need a degree in music. I have
songs that I sing that are either non-documented or written by me in a style
that I have been told is period but I wouldn't have a clue where to begin to
prove it. I don't want to stop performing them, but should I not compete
with them either?

I've have heard it said that such pieces are fine for a fire but not for a
competition. But one of the things here in the north that is somewhat
considered a duty of the titled bards is leading the bardic fires at night,
so shouldn't they have to show they can perform for a less formal audience
with equal ability?

I'm not actually speaking out against either side of the coin. I guess I'm
sort-of in the middle and torn and looking for some direction. While I
appreciate that we should know what we are performing and may need to prove
that we have made the effort to research our art, I know many of us may not
have the actual time or resources to invest in an in depth study. So my
question is where do you draw the line, how much is enough and what is too
little or too much?

<deep breath>

ok, now that I've written a novel I'll step back and read some more. I've
really been enjoying the debate. I prefer it when it stays civil, but I also
realize that as bards we are inherently people of passion and as such tend
to get heated up on many topics. Thank you for your time and consideration
in reading this very windy post.

HL Bella

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