minstrel: filk/period music/cut off date/what were we talking about? ;-)

EoganOg at aol.com EoganOg at aol.com
Thu Mar 23 20:18:05 PST 2000

When questioning such things as authenticity and cut off dates and 
appropriateness of filk, etc., I tend to consider several factors.  I'll 
explain it as I explain it to newcomers and new bards who ask, worried about 
what they might do that will be 'acceptable' at events.

Just as in any mundane type of performing, one must consider the audience.  
In the case of the SCA, your average audience at a bardic circle will be 
those at an event, who want to be transported back to the Middle Ages (at 
least in their minds for the night).  These people will not normally have 
much understanding of period music, period languages, or period instruments 
(yes, some will, but you can't count on this).  Therefore my goal as a 
performer is to help create for them an atmosphere that will add to their 
medieval experience.

The easiest way for me to do this is in a narrative-type song.  I am a singer 
primarily, and a musician only rarely, so a lot of this is specific to what I 
do.  But I find a lot of SCA performers focus on the voice, so this is 
relevant.  Since my emphasis is on the story, and I want my listeners to 
understand the story, I'm limited to modern, or early modern English, unless 
I want to do some hefty translating jobs.  (Yes, I have a couple of 
non-English and early English pieces in my repitior, but I am generalizing 
here).  What I want to do, then, is to create a medieval atmosphere by 
engaging in traditional singing but, linguistically, I have cut out most 
medieval song as unavailable.  The average guy singing for the enjoyment of 
his community in the Middle Ages would have sung something he learned from 
his tradition, something he heard from another singer, or something he made 
up.  He wouldn't have had to research something written hundreds of years ago 
(disclaimer to this later on, before I get a lot of comments on this 
statement). So I generally sing something I learn from my own tradition, 
another SCA bard, or something I made up.  When singing *any* of these, 
though, my first priority is not to break the medieval atmosphere!  The 
traditional Scottish song I sing at an event may not be period, but I never 
sing a song that references something post-period and try my best to keep to 
songs with period themes, images, and conventions.  I won't sing filk to a 
tune that people recognize as being modern because it will break the 
atmosphere.  You can expound from this.

HOWEVER, I am not a medieval singer.  I am a modern guy.  And I like 
recreating the past.  So, I WILL research songs from hundreds of years ago 
and perform them.  These, I'll do at competitions.  I'll also do at bardic 
circles or any other venue where they are welcome.  

In competitions, I'll always document every song I sing as best I can, 
because this is the place for it.  However, it's different at bardic circles. 
 There, I want to preserve the mood.  If I'm singing a song that is not quite 
period, but helps create the medieval atmosphere of a community gathered 
around a fire for entertainment in the evening, then to say, "This song is 
actually first recorded in 1725 but has the same storyline as several songs 
dating to the 16th century and so falls within the same tradition, so I think 
it's appropriate here," would break the illusion I was trying to create.  
Plus, to be frank, I doubt they would care much.  The average SCAdian there 
will simply want to hear a good song and enter the illusion for that evening. 
 Now, the ones who are into the music and maybe want to learn more and even 
perform themselves will express their interest to me, and I gladly tell them 
all I know about the song.  As for songs that are from period--when I sing 
them at bardic circles I'll state something like, "This was written by 
So-and-So in the year 1548 for this or that occasion," or some other brief 
background.  This does not break the illusion, in my opinion, because it 
references only period events.  Subtle difference, but it is my rule of thumb.

Compare this, if you will, to the ever present T-tunic.  If I am going to an 
event to relax, have fun, maybe get dirty helping set up pavilions, do some 
kitchen duty time, maybe roll around in the dirt with the children, I'll want 
to wear something that; looks medieval, will not break the illusion, and that 
I don't have to worry too much about.  I'll go with a cotton or cotton blend 
tunic or something similar.  It looks medieval enough not to bring anyone out 
of their illusion for the day.  No, it's not period, and if anyone comes up 
to me and expresses interest, I'll tell them that it's not, and why.  But I 
won't announce it to the world because that breaks the illusion as much as 
jeans and a T-shirt would.

For a garb competition, or an event that I really want to be spiff, or 
authentic, etc., I'll make my garb from linen, silk, wool, make sure the 
colors are compatible with period dyes, and construct them according to the 
most authentic patterns I can find.  This would be analogous to the 
well-documented song above.  

Am I making any sense?  I'm saying all of this mainly to let newcomers to 
this list know that one does not have to be an early music expert to be 
welcomed at SCA bardic circles, or even music competitions.  What we expect 
from our music is really what we expect from our clothing--a reasonable 
attempt.  Just consider your audience, consider your performance venue, and 
where your own talents and interest lie, and you'll be fine.

I know my above letter is full of sweeping  generalizations, but (as is often 
the case with generalizations) I don't care. ;-)

Have fun everyone!


Tighearn Eoghan Og mac Labhrainn
Order of the Pearl * Order of the Phoenix Eye
Militant Society of Bards

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