minstrel: aid for baby bards

Heather Rose Jones hrjones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Mon Mar 10 11:00:21 PST 1997

On Mon, 10 Mar 1997, Pendar wrote:

> > 	- If one of you has done this sort of regular workshop, what do you
> > feel is most important to keep in mind?
> Please keep in mind that you can't TEACH anyone Bardic Skills! They 
> either Get It or they Don't! Don't Push! They must motivate themselves to 
> learn.

I'll certainly agree that people must be self-motivated to get value out
of a bardic workshop, but I will strongly protest the notion that bardics
skills "can't be taught". You can teach people good vocal presentation
(whether for singing, reciting, or storytelling). You can teach people
musical technique. You can teach people writing skills. You can teach
people research skills. You can even teach people skills in
audience-awareness -- that all-important factor in success.

> > 	- What suggestions might you have for dealing with the effects of
> > "constructive criticism"?
> If your workshop is to work at all it has to be free of criticism of any 
> kind. It should be like having a bardic circle at your house, the only 

What you're describing isn't a bardic workshop, it's simply a non-event
bardic. "Criticism" is simply anyother way of saying "feedback". If you
are giving the attendees no feedback whatsoever -- simply giving them a
performance space -- then I really don't see the point in presenting the
thing as something other than a plain bardic circle. If someone is coming
to an activity labelled a "workshop" then I think they have a right to
_expect_ criticism and feedback, both on their material and on their
presentation. We had a highly successful series of bardic workshops in the
Mists that involved a fairly high and detailed level of feedback on
composition and performance. Criticism had to be constructive: i.e., you
couldn't say, "That song's a piece of crap." but you could say, "I'm not
sure what you're trying to evoke in your audience -- could you explain in
ordinary words what you're trying to communicate, and maybe we can figure
out a way to get it across more clearly." You couldn't say, "Don't sing in
public, you haven't got a voice." but you could say, "Have you considered
using an accompaniment instrument to help keep the key from wandering?" or
"I've always felt that your voice was best suited to dramatic recitations
-- every time you do <name of epic> I get chills down my spine. Have you
considered doing more of that type of material?"

> 3. Have a philosophical discussion about Bardic Style. Do NOT lot this 
> drag on for more than an hour! People have come to perform, not talk.

In my experience, philosophical discussions work best when they grow out
of discussing actual events. _Why_ did a particular performance work well
and a particular other one not work? Why did a particular piece work for
one audience and not for another? 

> 5. Do not allow people to give advice or criticism at this point. 
> Instead, find a way to work it into the style discussion of the next 
> meeting. That way, people will not feel like they are being persecuted.

In my experience, if people feel that _all_ the participants are available
to be critiqued, and if the tone is set up to be constructive and not
belittling, then even the shyest people eventually become comfortable with
the format. Encourage the "experienced" bards to bring in a work that's
only in first draft stage and clearly needs a lot of work. If the less
experienced people are given an opportunity to participate in the feedback
themselves, they are less shy about offering their own work for criticism.

Another important point is to have people -- before they perform -- tell
the rest of the workshop _what_ aspects of their work they particularly
want criticism on. For example: "I know I can't sing my way out of a paper
bag, but I'd really like some help with the phrasing in the chorus here --
I'm not entirely happy with the flow." or "I need to learn some more
SCA-appropriate material, but could you give me advice on how to project
better when I'm singing?" or "This is meant to be a sonnet, but I'm still
kind of fuzzy on the metrical rules; can we go over this with a
fine-toothed comb? I've got photocopies that people can comment on."

This gives the shy person an opportunity to say, "I'm not sure I'm up to
having my composition commented on yet, but I'd like feedback on my
performance." or "I've still rather self-conscious about my singing, but
I'd really like help with my song-writing." or the like.

I've been involved in a number of song-writing, bardic, (or simply
ordinary writing) workshops, and I've found they can be _very_ useful and
productive as long as the attendees are clear about what they're there
for, feedback is kept as positive as possible (which isn't the same thing
as only saying nice things), and there isn't a divide between "the big
name bards who, of course, are perfect and above criticism" and "the
newbys to whom the big name bards are going to impart their wisdom".

Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn

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