[NOTE: IKA in this context is inter-kingdom anthropology, not any of the other results that Google may return for the abbreviation.]
I looked at my calendar, and I realized between Pennsic and New Year’s, I’m attending more events out of kingdom than in (not including Pennsic itself, which happens to be in kingdom for me but is more a Known World event than a kingdom event). That’s affected a fair bit by my modern travel schedule, but still, I find myself putting in more effort to attend out-of-kingdom events than in-kingdom. I’ve been making an effort to play more locally ever since realizing how depressed the bardic culture within Æthelmearc has become, but I’m recognizing a catch-22. If I want to do bardic activities and there aren’t any happening at our kingdom events, the bards in the kingdom are going to go elsewhere to do their thing. Well, I shouldn’t say there are no bardic events. We do have a few, like February’s Kingdom for a Stage and September’s Bards and Bows, and there’s usually a performance track at our A&S pentathlon, Ice Dragon. And yet, I find myself seeking out alternatives. Why is that, I’ve wondered?
At my monthly Bardic Circle this past weekend, we discussed kingdom and barony bardic culture, as we often do. Within my barony, the Debatable Lands, we have a lot of musical culture. We have the Debatable Choir, a vocal ensemble devoted to multipart period pieces. We have the Debatable Consort, an instrumental group that often performs for dances and balls, and for ambiance before and after Court. Both of these are very heavily focused on period pieces, though. The concept of “Bardic” is somewhat different. There are documentable pieces we can perform, to an extent. There are all the trouvère and troubadour pieces, some of which even have music preserved with the lyrics. There are some Child ballads within our scope. There are the Cantigas de Santa Maria. But what a performance of these lacks is the experience that one would’ve had hearing these pieces in context, in their appropriate time. Practically no one is fluent in Galician-Portuguese to the extent that they converse in the language regularly. Same with Old French, no one will be using it in casual conversation at an event. This is the main reason I’m such a proponent of lyrical translations into modern English — the original language is virtually incomprehensible to a modern audience and requires a greater effort to appreciate than many are willing to put in. But taking this a step further, there’s still bardic as an art form, not as a recreation of period works. This is a matter of great debate within the society. What is the worth of taking the role of a trouvère and adapting it to our society? Creating contemporary works in a style that the audience enjoys listening to, for the purpose of entertainment? Where’s the line between being period enough and still capturing the audience’s rapt attention? Now, we do have a couple active poets in kingdom who diligently write pieces to commemorate current events in Old Norse style, which is about comparable to using Bayeux Tapestry embroidery stitches to create something with modern SCA heraldic pieces on it for awards or favors, definitely within the scope of “acceptable” period bardic. But for reasons beyond the scope of this mere bard’s blog post, modern audiences tend to prefer music and song to spoken poetry. Where do songs like Efenwealt’s “Heloise and Abelard” fall? Period topic, but completely modern lyric structure, melody, and accompaniment. And yet it’s one of the most powerful pieces I know.
Which brings me back around to bardic IKA. In Atlantia, where I got my SCA start, I was surrounded by bards like Efenwealt Wystle, Rosalind Jehanne, Dervila
ni Leanon ni Liadhnáin the Storyteller, Bryce de Byram, Niall Dolphin, Dunstan le Heryngmongere… I remember when each of them got their laurels. They all have period elements to their performances, of course, but they’re best known for entertainment, not a strict adherence to pre-1600 performance. Rosalind writes some of the best songs in the known world. Efenwealt has multiple albums and fans around the globe. Bryce and Niall performed at most feasts I attended. However, in some kingdoms, that skill in entertaining an audience isn’t considered enough of a period art to merit consideration for higher order awards. While “going for the cookie” shouldn’t be the only reason for pursuing something, recognition by one’s peers is not to be underestimated as a motivation, and I can’t help but wonder whether that the lack of recognition for entertaining is part of what’s hampering Æthelmearc’s bardic culture. Definitely not the only thing as Ealdormere’s own bardic culture has flagged in recent years and they’ve always had a strong appreciation for entertainers, but if entertainment was more of a recognized art in itself, would we have more people pursuing it and a stronger culture thriving? Like attracts like, and I find myself drawn to events in which I feel there’s a bigger audience for my preferred art which means Cooks and Bards, or events back in Atlantia. (Granted, the proximity of grandparents for child care makes it easier and more appealing to go to Atlantian events, too.) This isn’t helping the issue of Æthelmearc having so little bardic culture, though. By directing my efforts out of kingdom, I fear I’m contributing to the problem.
So, what’s the solution? The first thought to come to mind is, “I should make more bardic happen at events myself! Plan bardic circles, sponsor competitions, maybe even run a bardic-themed event!” Great idea in theory, but the SCA isn’t my only hobby and I have one small child and another on the way. I don’t have the time, energy, or focus to be the lone spearhead. I’m thrilled that Gwendolyn the Graceful has moved back in kingdom and only lives a few minutes away from me now, so perhaps between the two of us we can get some momentum going. The unofficial required quorum to make a bardic circle seems to be three bards, so all we have to do is stick together and find one other performer to make bardic happen. And I can at least attempt to take advantage of my out of kingdom excursions to do some research into what helps the bardic culture thrive elsewhere and see what I can bring home.