[Bards] Thank you and a question on catagories

Gerald Norris jerryn at houston.rr.com
Wed Apr 26 04:45:18 PDT 2006

First, I would like to commend Master Ihon for starting these conversations.
Having said that, I wish it had been myself. ;-)
I spent a lot of time working on a differentiation between bard and
minstrel, and it was really nicely worded, too!  But after reading the
thoughts of Finnacan and Ulf, I realized that I've been confused, all this
time, when entering bardic competitions.
You'd think, said he, that I would have a clue by now.
In the past I have entered bardic competitions with instrumental pieces.
But, thinking upon it, that's an inappropriate piece to enter in a bardic
competition.  Sort of like submitting a leather pot-holder in an A&S
competition devoted to cooking; close, but not quite on the mark.  
I straddle the fence; I can act as either a court performer or a vocal (and
I'm working on my juggling).  I've written songs about the history of
places, tried to capture a moment of time in a song, and play forever on the
field, in the hall, or at the table (really, anywhere I can sit my butt down
and people don't throw things at me - unless it's drink!).  In the past,
when I've brought instrumental pieces to the competition I THINK I was
trying to be "lazy", in that I have about 40 or so perfectly period pieces
committed to memory for flute alone (another two dozen or so for soprano
recorder, and let's not even talk about the dances....).  So.  When I
entered a competition, I could use these as my period entry, and I could
even talk about the instrument being played upon (both are period
reproductions, the recorder more faithful than the flute).
The number of period SONGS, on the other hand, reaches just over a double
handfull.  And I haven't done any research on them, blah blah blah.
All that having been said, I think that Finnacan has pretty much hit the
mark.  Three categories gives us a good diversity without nailing down too
many particulars; vocal, physical, and court.  I try to encourage whatever
category presents itself in any performer; but my leanings are towards
trying to encourage instrumental music (I get lonely!).  So.  I've found a
focus for my part of the discussion and it only took me seven
One of the things that I get to hear most often, when attending an event, is
how my music helped people find the ability to lift away the mundane
trappings and actually BE at a listfield, watching knights and squires in
friendly competition.  That is a great reward unto itself.  I make no bones
about the fact that I'm a music slut and will play at the drop of ... well,
just about anything.  My problem is that many times seems as if I'm the only
As an example, I personally know three people who own lap harps, yet only
one of them brings it to events.  Granted, these gentles are active in other
areas of our Society as well and one is only now learning, but the lap harp
is one of those instruments that sounds good even if you're just musically
diddling.  It provides atmosphere, a pleasant background noise, and playing
on it would give the owner more practice, whether they wanted it or not.
There's a madrigal group in my area that practices, but I'd like to see them
perform at the list-field between the callings; have someone coordinate with
the list mistresses or something.  Heck, even perform a soft piece in a
corner somewhere while the fighting is going on.  Recorder players who can
play but won't because of whatever reason, people who say they can't learn
to play a pennywhistle because they don't know how to whistle, the list goes
At our last Gulf War I came upon an unusual (at least to my view) situation;
a young lady who plays flute had wanted to talk to me about playing a
non-period instrument at an SCA event, but was always worried that she would
be interrupting my playing, or when I was talking to people who wear brass
about their head.  That was an eye-opener, I assure you.  Fortunately, the
lady in question had BROUGHT her non-period modern-day flute and, after an
invitation, joined the band for the evening dances.  I helped lead a
"practice" where three ladies were working on learning to play recorder and
read music.  It was fun, we all had a good time.  I even had the chance to
teach another young lady an Irish traditional tune via the oral tradition
(no written music involved).  We played a duet for everyone that evening.
I've come up with practices that may help me down my path of bringing out
the instrumentalists in the woodwork.  I run a "slow session" for Irish
traditional music in my area, and I've recently started emailing the local
SCA announcement lists about it as well.  I've determined to take at least
two soprano recorders with me when I go to an event, as well as take music
for sight-reading.  I'm going to try to figure out WHY people would think
that they'd be interrupting me by wanting to talk to me about music.  
I can't determine yet whether the above paragraphs are a rant or just a
statement of my view of the instrumental side of the SCA.  It is merely my
(often flawed) observation of my little portion of the world.  
I think, at the higher level, that determining the different classifications
of performance (whether we use Finnacan's excellent model or not) might help
each of us who do what they can to help further the performance arts,
whether they be physical, instrumental, or courtly in their form.  If some
poor schlep, such as myself, were to enter a bardic competition with an
instrumental piece, the judge(s) could provide a note, somewhere in the
critique (and for clarification, critique includes things like "Nice tone,
good control of the instrument, etc.") that the piece may have been well
played, but might not carry as much weight as vocal performances in a bardic
At ground level, I think it will help those of us who try to encourage the
learning of different aspects of the performance arts to bring a person new
to that particular venue in focus.  I find that people spend a lot of time
trying to tell themselves how they don't know enough, can't perform well
enough, or just plain aren't strong enough, to play, sing, recite, in front
of people.  If we can use categorization as a method to focus on an
individual's talents, rather than as a restricting jacket that forces a
person to play that role only, then we NEED the categories, if for no other
reason than the fact that it's another tool in the teaching arsenal.
I really need to go make a pot of coffee now.  This took too long again, and
I fear that I rambled more than I would have liked, but... well.... there it
In service to the dream with a song in my heart, I am,
HL Gerald of Leesville
A bard of Stargate 

What do you see as the categories that should be considered bardic?  I think
it can be said that traditionally the term 'bardic' has been loosely limited
to song, story and poem.  Are there other categories you would deem bardic
or bardcraft -- say . . . instrumental music, group sinding (madrigal),
dance, juggling, ensemble acting  . . . or would you consider those
'performance'?  What do you see as the ramifications of your choices?

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