Version the Short: I had the good fortune to claim victory at An Tir’s recent Kingdom Bardic Championships. Now I get to wear a big cloak and carry a shiny horn in court, and more importantly, have the responsibility to perform and teach the art of performance throughout the Kingdom for the next year. You can find some lovely photographs of the event by Talentus here.
Version the Long: I had been strongly considering entering this year’s Kingdom Bardic competition ever since last March, when my single entry of Cantiga 322 on harp and voice was so well received by the judges. I generally dislike competitions in the Arts and Sciences, as I don’t feel that these activities are inherently competitive (topic for a different post), but at the same time there’s a lot to recommend this particular competition. For one, the judging is highly informed and thorough, and the general skill of the competitors is quite high, so the event is a real pleasure to attend. For two, and more importantly, the position of Kingdom Bard is highly visible and provides the ideal position from which to encourage performers and foster more interest in the Bardic Arts. I decided that I wanted that particular job and duty, and thus submitted my intent to compete last December.
I’m glad that I did submit that intent, as An Tir seems to have many great performers, but few performances. This competition was a case in point, as there were only four entrants in the competition (and only two competing for overall best), but more than ten highly competent individuals serving as judges. Had I not entered, the title would have gone uncontested, and that’s not a healthy thing. I’m not really sure what’s driving the phenomenon, but I’ve rarely encountered music, storytelling, theatre and so forth at An Tirian events, particularly in any organized fashion. The problem is definitely not a lack of talent, but it may be a lack of encouragement or a dearth of appropriate venues. I hope to work to improve this over the coming year.
In any case, I performed three pieces at the event: the 14th century istanpitta “Tre Fontane” on alto recorder, the 13th century trouvère reverdie “Volez-vous que Je vous chant” on harp and voice, and one of my few SCA bardic compositions, “Laurel Green, Laurel Fair” for harp and voice. The first two were for the formally judged rounds, the third was for populace’s choice. The first two received very high marks from the judges, though I really wasn’t that happy with my performance of Tre Fontane. It is a very difficult piece and some stumbles are almost inevitable, but I had performed it much better in practice. So it goes. The last piece won the populace’s choice award, and clearly resonated with much of the audience, as I had hoped.
On day two of An Tir’s competition, (yes, it is two days long) each finalist repeats one of their performances for a much larger audience that includes the royalty as well as people that are primarily in attendance for the concurrent Kingdom Arts and Sciences competition. I reprised the trouvère song (which is better suited to the SCA bardic tradition, more universally accessible and the stronger of my two performances) and definitely nailed it. I’m very happy with my arrangement of the piece and I performed it as well as I ever have. The grill session after the performance also went well (I’ll chalk it up to the combination of my experience defending a Ph.D. thesis, and the rosewater wafers and hazelnut milk with which Rhi plied the judges). My challenger Jahnkin de Leeuw chose a Gregorian chant as his final entry and performed exceedingly well. I was particularly impressed with his control of pitch and tuning . . . his chosen piece required completely exposed, very long notes. I couldn’t have held such tones nearly as constant as he did! Still, for better or worse the judges chose my entry for the top prize, and in the closing court I received the cloak and horn of the Kingdom Bard to wear and keep for the coming year.
I’m still planning out what I’d like to do with the position, but I’m certain that I want to encourage a lot more performances in a variety of genres. That will certainly involve running some bardic circles and performing in court, but I’m also hoping to showcase some other folks and to insert music into some places where it isn’t as commonly encountered, such as tournaments. I’d also like to build a greater community of performers, but I may end up with some challenges there due to a potential major division between (self-classified) bards and musicians that I’ll discuss in a subsequent post.
I’ll close with a question for any gentle readers who care to comment. With respect to the performing arts in An Tir, what would you like to see happen in the coming year? My ear is open to you, and there’s no better position from which to spark some change in that area than the one I now hold.