Documentability

Heather Rose Jones hrjones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Sat Sep 9 15:53:05 PDT 1995


> Which leads to another question of mine:  What do you all (meaning the 
> subscribers to the enitre list) feel about all the pieces that fall 
> into the "unproven" category? Do we adhere strictly to the letter of 
> the law and exclude all that which is undocumentable despite they can 
> be placed in our period by reference or quotation? 
> 
> ciorstan

Appropriateness of material for SCA performance is always a matter of 
"situational ethics" to me. And I consider the mark of a top-notch SCA 
entertainer to be the ability to size up the "situation" and perform 
material appropriate to the occasion -- or refrain from performing if 
s/he has no material appropriate to _that_ particular occasion. Wander 
from campfire to campfire at an event and each one will have a different 
set of standards, a different protocol, and different tastes. Like 
well-bred newsgroup participants, well-bred entertainers "lurk" for a 
while to get a feel for the parameters. At one fire, nothing but raucous 
bawdy drinking songs will be welcome. If they're period, they won't hold 
it against you, but the question is fairly irrelevant. At another fire, 
perhaps the ruling parameter is the guidance of the entertainment by a 
particular host -- and even your best, most authentic music will be 
unwelcome if you barge in and treat it like a public party. At another 
fire, strict authenticity may be the rule of the evening; at yet another, 
mood is more important than specifics. So much of "appropriateness" in 
SCA performance actually has little to do with the material itself and 
much to do with a sensitivity to the many different, individual "games" 
that are being played.

I'm a song writer. If I held myself to a standard of only performing 
documentably period tunes and lyrics, I could never perform any of my own 
works -- and at many performances, it is my own works that I am welcomed 
for. I _do_ perform completely documentable works too. But on the other 
hand, there are a great many songs that I've written outside the SCA that 
I will refuse to perform at SCA events, even if they fall within the 
"prevailing standards" of a particular fireside, because I am still 
allowed to have higher standards than my audience.

So I would say, as an absolute minimum, respect the standards and 
expectations of your audience. If -- in a particular situation -- that 
"audience" is a panel of judges, you may find that those standards and 
expectations _do_ rule out any but completely documentable material. Or 
in another situation you may find that the standards demand material that 
cannot be discerned from the authentic by knowledgeable people. So a song 
that's "medievaloid" in style but _known_ by your audience to be 
non-period may be out while one in an almost identical style but 
completely unfamiliar to your audience may not jar them. And an original 
work that follows period styles closely enough that it fools them may be 
very welcome. (I once was playing an original harp tune and had a scholar 
of historic music ask me which manuscript it came from. Sometimes it can 
work.) And to be brutally blunt, the lower the musical (or historical) 
sophistication of your audience, the smaller the amount of material that 
will jump in their face and yell, "boo". Think about the people you've 
run into who sincerely believe that "The Scotsman" or "The Chastity Belt" 
are actual medieval songs. A lot more material will fit into _their_ 
Middle Ages than will fit into mine.

I guess I've wandered far afield from the original question, but it 
seemed that the original wording was a bit of a straw-man. I have never 
run into anyone in the SCA who believes that only strictly documentable 
material should be performed at all times and on all occasions. And a 
dozen rambling paragraphs are a more useful response than, "It depends".

Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn



More information about the minstrel mailing list