Musical authenticity (was "Hunting the Wren")

Dave & Laura McKinstry dalm at
Sun Sep 10 15:17:00 PDT 1995

Brett Williams wrote:

>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? 
>It's my feeling that if we exclude the unprovable then it would lead 
>one to a natural conclusion that not only should we exclude the 
>unproven, but also our own efforts as well. I, for one, fail to see the 
>difference, from the viewpoint of absolute authenticity standards, 
>between reinterpretation of fragments of period balladry/songs and 
>original effort. Both are, at heart, according to the cry of the 
>authenticity maven, "not period".
>And that's not a step I want to take. One of my greatest joys in music 
>is what I call 'redaction music": a demonstrably old piece of music or 
>song that's been redone/reinterpreted anew. I love listening to it and 
>doing it myself. I find redactions to be one of the special attractions 
>of the Society.

I am VERY new to all this, and had never heard of redaction; thank you for
introducing me to the concept.  It sound more period than period is period,
if you know what I mean.

I can tell you the stance of Crie Freunlaven is, "Fun is period, to heck
with books and proof!"  I, on the other hand, try to keep things period.
I've been told that most of the musickers in this kingdom (Trimaris) simply
play folk tunes and are welcomed gratefully, possibly since there are so few
musickers here, a tune of any sort is well appreciated.  And possibly
because they keep their music tasteful (not blatantly modern) and are very

I am trying to get some good period music together, but there are problems;
the idea of writing music down didn't evolve THAT long before 1600 (okay, I
think a one-line method with spacing used for note lenght was around in 1000
or so, but it took a few centuries to become accurately representative of
the melody), and once it did exist, it wasn't commonly used.  The music that
did exist, therefor, was not recorded, except hymns and madrigals, since the
church was quite fanatical about record keeping.  We don't wish to do
christian music, so that leaves us in a quandary; how does one find enough
folk-music of the era to find a decent reprortoire of what one likes?  I
believe a serious attempt at recreation of these tunes should not be
rebuffed.  Perhaps music is an exeption to the SCA rule that things must be
documented. Remember; many of the original harpers (Irish, therefor my
persona) were blind. What good is sheet music to them?  

The scales should be used; Aeolian and -- is it Dorian or Lydian, or both?
THen care taken to keep to the rhthms used then.  

FOr my persona, again, what was commonly done with music is that the melody
ONLY was passed odwn, by ear, from harper to harper, and the next harper
would play the songs, and sing along with it whatever words fit the
occassion he was commemorating (ie, marriage words for a wedding, heroic
words for a dangerous-beast slaying, whatever.)  So there ARE no set words
for the period songs I would sing.  THe melodies, at best, stayed relatively
the same, but not even that.  Some harpers would overhear a song in a
tavern, or somesuch, then later recreate it as best they remembered on their
own instrument, sometimes trying to recall the words, or change the
rendition to reflect their own values.

So as you can see, for my persona, alteration of music is MORE period than
is static reproduction.  And I will stand by this statement. I will keep to
the spirit of the music, and sing of things that they would have then.  But
as I stated in an earlier post, I believe the INTENT of being a bard is to
tell us of OUR history, so you will more likely hear me sing of Richard of
Huntington's (Trimaris) three stags on his coat of arms than, say, Queen

IMHO, of course,
-Lark of Cire Freunlaven

And thanks to all the spirited responses on this subject, particularly
Tangwystyl who spoke at length, and beautifully.

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