Authenticity, choices, definitions, etc.

Rebecca Voris rvoris at
Tue Sep 12 20:15:29 PDT 1995

Greetings to all from Godith Anyon.

It is probably inevitable that this list started with a discussion of
"what is a bard?" I might as well throw in my own definition. To me, a
bard is a solo performer. If I am being precise, I will note that most
bards are singers, many compose their own works, some accompany
themselves on either the guitar or the harp, and some do storytelling
or poetry. This is, of course, a strictly SCA-based definition; it is
what I have seen from observing performers at bardic circles.

I am usually not a bard. I usually play dance music with my barony's
guild of jongleurs, and in fact the title of jongleur seems to best
fit what I do. That is, I am a competent musician who can be hired to
do useful things (such as play for dancing, provide music for a play,
provide incidental music, etc.) I do not compose, as a troubador
would, nor is my skill and reputation so great that I would be called
upon to give a star performance. On occasion, I have had opportunities
to meet with musicians from other places, and I have greatly profited
thereby in terms of simple enjoyment, increased enthusiasm for my
craft, more people to play with, and more knowledge. Although this
list is labelled "bardic," I hope that it will be a means of
networking with musicians of all types. (And storytellers and poets
too, I guess.)

Sometimes I perform alone, and I would like to do so more often, but
the opportunities to do so are rare. In these parts of the world, most
bardic circles are held at camping events and these can happen only
during a few months. I generally get to two or three such a year, not
including Pennsic. Day events here are mostly too large for one person
to fill a hall at dinner time, and I have only seen people singing to
individual tables once or twice. I would like to ask you how one goes
about creating opportunities to perform, and also how one nerves
oneself up to do so. In fact, I would like to hear from people any
hints they have on making sure that one's performance is pleasing to
one's audience. I never know what to do with my hands while singing,
and I'm never sure whether I should look at high table, where the
"important" people are, or at the bulk of the room, or what. Bardic
circles are easier, but I have a hard time grabbing the floor, and I
feel equally uncomfortable introducing a piece with some suitable
words as with launching right into it.

Right, now for a topic change. We've been discussing a question asked
by Ciorstan:

>   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?

And we've been discussing several things that fall out from this
question, such as the question of how authentic we want to be in our
choice of pieces to perform. I get the sense that I am rather on the
far end of the bell-curve here; I try to perform only pieces written
in period. Usually when I fail to do so, it is because I am playing a
modern arrangement of a period dance tune, or because I am singing "My
Thing Is My Own," which I love but which comes from
_Pills_to_Purge_Melancholy_. Like all men, I am weak.

Now, some people have given quite good reasons to perform "unproven"
material. For example, Liam Mac Mhuire wrote:

>favorite example is Bedlam Boys.  The version most often sung in the 
>SCA is the one I believe was popularized by Steeleye Span.  It's words 
>and are are close to, but not identical to, the earliest tune I could 
>find: Pill's to Purge Melancholy (the earliest printing containing 
>this is roughly 1698). There's 3 filks to the song in Le Prince D'Amor
>(1666, words only) and several period references to the song, but I've
>no clue how it was sung in period, only that something like it was.  ' 
>frustrates the heck out of me :-(.  I still sing it, though, 'cause 
>it's fun and "something very close to it was sung in period".

He has obviously done his homework, and is trying to perform something
in as period a fashion as he can. I have only one small quibble with
this, and it's the same reason I occasionally feel bad about doing "My
Thing is My Own." Firstly, there are so many neat songs that are
definitely period that it feels wasteful to bother with questionable
songs. Why have something ertzatz when for less effort you can have
something authentic? Second, I feel bad about misleading people as to
what period music sounds like. If I know something about a subject, it
is my duty not to miseducate. I hear a lot of folk songs at bardic
circles. They sounded old enough to be period to me when I first
joined, but they do not now. I have listened to enough period music
that Child ballads and folk songs don't sound right any more. Since I
know better, I cannot in good conscience perform them.

Lark of Cire Freunlaven mentions another good point:

>   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.

And again, I have only one quibble. Can you alter music in a period
fashion? When you are done altering it, is the music still in a period
style? If so, then do it with my blessing.

M'lady Lark also said something I found somewhat surprising:

>  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.

There's a lot more documentalbe music from before 1600 than you think,
and it's not all "hymns and madrigals" either. There's troubador and
minnesinger songs, the Cantigas de Santa Maria, chansons and motets up
the ying-yang, Ravenscroft's rounds, a tavern full of Elizabethan
drinking songs, and buckets full of other stuff. Don't throw away
Christian songs so quickly, either; you'll miss out on Edi Beo and
Nova Nova and Alleluia Psallite and a whole host of beautiful
music. So far I've just mentioned the stuff you can sing; I haven't
even touched the instrumental stuff. Now, if you only want folk music,
you _are_ limiting yourself severely. But it seems like a silly
limitation; it's like someone seated before a banquet who will eat
only grapes and complain that there isn't enough to eat.

Which leads me to my last question: what are your favorite sources for
pieces? I've heard quite a few people mention Ravenscroft. Just about
every dance musician I know has a copy of Timothy McGee's
_Medieval_Instrumental_Dances_. Where do you find good music?

-Godith Anyon
rvoris at

More information about the minstrel mailing list