One jump, One whistle, And one….

4 Dec 2013 by gebhard, No Comments »

gebhardbassWhat is the hardest activity you’ve ever tried to do in the SCA?

I’ve eaten things I’m pretty sure were made out of eyes. I’ve burned myself metalworking. I once (accidently) cup shotted a Duke, who shortly after was kind enough to give me a personal lesson on defense. I’ve made and failed many times on complicated garb. I’ve nearly lost fingers making crossbows. I could go on for sometime listing things I’ve done I considered to be hard.
However, the hardest thing I’ve done to date is try to play music in the SCA.

You can fight on your first night, but it will takes of years of work before you’re ready to start playing in the SCA. Then, it’s often 6-8 hours of playing at a time, often without breaks. Fighting for as long, is less work. Even Bar Bands normally only play three 45 minutes sets, with a 15 minute break between sets.

Even if you commit to this shockingly hard venue physically, you are in for a lackluster to openly hostile reception. People know what they like, and they don’t really like period music.

It was explained to me like this, “Let’s say it’s 1350, and I go into a bar.  They are going to sing popular songs of the day, songs that are relevant to the people in their time and place. They aren’t going to want to sing songs 400 years old.”

Shortly after this conversation,  “Jonny Jump Up” (an irish drinking song, cica 1945) was requested.

This got me dirty looks from a laurel, who later explained to me that period music can be fun like modern irish drinking songs. We should be playing period music at our events.  It’s the middle ages we are recreating, not post WII Ireland.

Should we create a relatable medieval experience or do we try to duplicate the medieval era? This question is core to every member of the SCA.

A good performer (now and in period) understood his/her audience, and adjusts the content accordingly, which is why there is no period version of “it’s my party I can cry if I want to.”  Songs of great exploits, either in battle or in bed were normal order of the day. The Norman number one on the pop charts was the “Song of Roland”, a 4,002 line epic poem which was memorized. Being a musician was never an easy gig.

Roland le Fartere was musician in King Henry II’s court, who was awarded 30 tracks of land on the promise each year he would perform “Unum saltum et siffletum et unum bumbulum” (one jump, one whistle, and one fart) for the King’s court at Christmas. I haven’t seen this routine yet, I have a feeling I won’t feel 30 tracks of land is justified for it. Forgive me if I don’t mind not having complete re-enactment, although this may be a excellent idea for your next 12th night.

As humans we like familiarity.  Nowhere is that more true than with music. We like irish drinking songs because we want to sing and cheer along, and we already know them. Not very many us know “Bem platz lo gias temp de pascor” or “Farai un vers de dreyt nien”.

If you grew up listening to hurdy gurdies and crumb horns, that would be what you most prefer. Since we grew up listening to auto-tune, beat boxes and electric guitars, that is what we prefer.

Can the Song of Roland become something you’d want to listen to? That depends on many things.

It’s been a project of mine to play period songs in a modern way, I like to do this during feasts.

As our Laurel King Cellach has asked of the people of his house to try to improve their kits 10% a year. I hope this can add a small 10% step to making the ambiance of an event that much better, and so that you can hear something period in a way you’re familiar to listening to music.

I hope that this way you will learn the melody of a song, thus creating a bridge between what is real and what is relevant.

Then maybe one day wandering around Pennsic (or other event) you’ll hear people with the proper instruments playing something you recognize. You’ll stop and listen, I also hope you’ll tap your foot, maybe say something nice to musicians. They have turned nearly a lifetime of work into something that will be gone as soon as the applause stops.

In the SCA, just like in period, there is no “repeat” button on a playlist of an event. You must take in what you can for the very short time it’s there to enjoy.

Image above is of my 2nd AoA illuminated by Brighid Red Spears


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