[Bards] An interesting bardic idea...

Jay Rudin rudin at ev1.net
Thu Jun 12 07:45:56 PDT 2008

Alden is quite correct that competitions with required themes are 
unbalanced towards certain people.  In fact, he doesn't go far enough. 
*Every* style of competition helps some people realtive to others.

Requiring several pieces gives an advantage to the bards with bigger 
repertoires.   Requiring original pieces aids the people who like to write. 
Requiring songs helps singers.  Requiring instrumental music helps the 
musicians.  Requiring pieces about the local groups helps old-timers and 
local bards.  Bard's choice single piece helps the people with a single 
power piece.  Having people draw a theme right before performing leans 
toward the improvisers, the large repertoires, and the lucky.

In the early eighties, all competition had the same form -- one poem, one 
story, one song.  I very often won best poem, but never won the overall 
competition, because the singers could blow me away.  (For a short while I 
was in the uncomfortable position of being considered a "constant winner" 
while I had still never won a single competition.)

That's why I want a variety of competitions.  I don't object to having a 
handicap in the Bordermarch competition.  It's a fun challenge.  But it 
becomes a wearisome burden to have the same handicap all the time.

But the choice of competition style has consequences, and people should 
consider those consequences.  The biggest consequence is that the more 
challenging the requirements, the fewer people will enter.  This year's 
Elfsea competition required three pieces -- a piece about elves or the sea, 
a piece from the Decameron, and a piece about Elfsea.  This is a 
non-trivial challenge, and only four people dared try it.  (I opened the 
competition by saying, "Welcome to the second round of Elfsea's bardic 
competition.  The first round was considering the requirements and choosing 
to try to meet them.  Only the four of you met the challenge of the first 

A "Stand up and do any one piece" competition will attract far more 
people -- including many who didn't prepare for it and aren't focused on 
performing a great piece.  The upside is high participation.  The downside 
is a long competition and lots of pieces you're probably not going to 
seriously consider.  (I remember when somebody performed "C'est Moi" from 
the Broadway musical Camelot -- in the competition for Premier Bard!)

If you offer a choice of something easy and something hard, you have aimed 
people at the easy one.  "You must do a sonnet or a Q'asidah" will merely 
generate sonnets.

Other considerations: an evening bardic competition gathers a larger crowd 
than one during the day (except at a one-day event).  If it's scheduled 
against the (battle / fencing tourney / weaving competition / seneschal's 
class), then you won't get the (fighters / fencers / weavers / seneschals).

I have run many competitions with many different sets of rules, and none of 
them are my "favorite".  They include:

Two pieces:
1. Your best piece
2. Draw a name from the bag of somebody important to the Steppes.  In two 
hours you will do a praise piece about that person.
(Somebody asked if I would allow a re-draw if you drew somebody you didn't 
know, or somebody you *really* didn't like.  I replied "No -- if I knew how 
to arrange it, I would put *every* bard in that position."  And in fact, 
two of the best pieces came from bards who had drawn people they really 
didn't like -- but given the requirement, they found a way to give honest 
Three pieces to represent three of the muses.  This forced breadth of 
material, but you could do it in many different ways.  I assigned Urania, 
the muse of astronomy, to tales of the Black Star.  The single piece that 
impressed me the most was from Lady Katarina Aretino.  This power singer 
did a *poem* in praise of Euterpe, the muse of song.
(Announced at opening court)  We have two tourneys, a quest, and many other 
activities today.  Tonight, each bard must tell us of some great feat or 
interesting moment that occurs today.
(At Gulf War, years ago)  Tonight, I have a keg.  It is open to any fighter 
who will come and tell a tale about, and drink a toast to, anyone on the 
other side.
Tell us of a moment in the SCA in which it all felt real.
(One of Lloyd's quests)  For the quest today, I have arranged many 
different challenges.  The end of the quest is when we all gather in the 
tavern and tell the tale of our adventures.

Here are a few competition ideas I've never used -- yet.

Three pieces.  A period work, an original piece you wrote, and an original 
piece some other Ansteorran wrote.
Three pieces -- classical (Greek or Latin culture), medieval, and 
Three pieces.  One for the fighters, one for the ladies pavilion, one for 
the late-night drunken fire crowd.  (A truly subtle bard might do a 
stirring battle piece for the ladies, a drinking song for the fighters, and 
a love song for the fire.)
Sing the praises of the one person who has caused you the most annoyance or 
trouble in the last year.
Two pieces -- one you didn't write, and we'll judge the performance, and an 
original piece submitted on paper and we'll judge just the writing.
Here's the tune, chorus, and a few verses of a song that can be added to. 
Write a verse for it, and tonight the competition will be a single song we 
all sing together, each adding his or her own verse.
Here are five judges.  Each brought a prize.  I'll let each one tell you 
what they are judging.  Your piece can aim at one or more than one of the 
Each bard must bring a prize.  After the competition, we will each stand up 
and give our prize, telling everyone why you chose that person.  Maybe one 
person will get thirty prizes.  Maybe we'll each go home with a prize. 
(I've considered suggesting we add this to Kingdom Eisteddfod.  If you want 
to be the Premier Bard, you should be ready for the duty of honoring other 

I'm convinced that entering several of these in the next year would be a 
great deal more fun than having all competitions be my "favorite" style.

Robin of Gilwell / Jay Rudin 

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