It's a huge, all encompassing term. We use it when we're talking about singers, poets, musicians, storytellers and riddlers. We apply the term to almost everyone working in a number of different areas, regardless of skill or style, and no one has yet come up with a comprehensive definition. Here are some period terms, all of which would be considered "bards" in the High Fantasy Society.
Bard… Skald… Senachie… Troubadour… Trouvere… Jongleur… Minstral…
There are many other names, in many languages and from every culture, far too many to list here. Suffice it to say that no one can tell you what a "true bard" is. For the purposes of this introduction we will use this definition. Limited as it may be, it's the best we can do.
BARD = A person who specializes in individual vocal performance.
How do you become a bard?Edit
The definition above provides the answer. By making vocal performance (storytelling, singing, or reciting poetry) your specialty. Being a bard is a profession, and success in the bardic profession requires the same dedication as success in fighting or costuming; you must have some ability and be willing to learn the required skills. There are no short cuts: natural talent will carry a fighter a long way, but in and of itself will not win the day. The fighter must learn to control his sword and shield and the bard must learn to control his voice. The Master Garber must learn to choose and fashion her fabric and the bard must learn to choose and fashion her material. The only difference is that while the fighter goes to work in the morning the bard goes to work at night. Does this mean that before you can sing at a bardic circle you have to spend hours learning Welsh and poring over old books of ballads? No, not at all. Just as there are Artisans who will choose never to enter items into a Inter-kingdom A&S Tourney, there are many people who will be happy to sing a song or two now and again. There will be even more who wish to sing along with other, but who are not willing to perform alone. Some will want to participate so badly that they will trample all over your performance in their exuberance…
Types of Bardic MaterialEdit
Filk, Folk, or Period?
Once again, there is no set answer to this question. In some parts of the Known World, even the terms mean different things. So we'll have to come up with our own definitions again.
FILK = Lyrics written to an existing tune
FOLK = modern style of musical performance with a period theme
PERIOD = Documentably pre-1650 material and style
Filk music (although stories and poetry can also be "filked") is common in differing degrees through the Society. Even within a single Kingdom, attitudes about filk can vary widely. In some Kingdoms very popular contests like "Best Beatles Filk" are held, but at the same time other groups pride themselves on their high standards of period music. Filk is considered acceptable in most (though by no means in all) places. It is considered impolite to filk the work of people who
live in your Kingdom or area unless you have gotten express permission to do so. The best rule of thumb may be to avoid a tune if it is well known. Still, as one person I know put it, "You're not really a bard until you've done a filk. Folk (the term applies as much to the style of the performance as to the style of the music), is also something of a mixed bag. It should not be confused with "filk", as performing a piece in a generic "folk" style is quite different than writing new words to an old Eagles tune. As a general rule, folk is acceptable, but you must avoid taking it too far: don't choose excessively modern music styles. It is, however, the most popular form for music in the Society as a whole.
Period, as in pre-1650, is the standard by which all bardic arts are judged. Period material, while exempt from the criticisms associated with filk and folk, has its own unique drawbacks. The primary complaint about period performance (and period music in particular) is that it sounds strange to the modern ear. Many people who would happily sit through an entire evening of filk or folk grow quickly restless when period music and performance are the order of the day. Bawdy Bawdy is not the same as "rowdy" or "raucous". Rather, it's a perfectly period term for off-color or risque material which is not suitable for children (or some adults). Any type of music may fall into this category, and many period songs, stories and poems fall far outside the bounds of acceptable "family entertainment".
And All The Rest
In the Society you will hear many types of bardic presentations, not all of which are described above. Material that falls well outside our period but does not fit into any of the groups I've discussed includes most of the popular Irish drinking songs and many, though not all, of the Childe Ballads. There are also a number of songs and stories representing the "Victorian" chivalric ideals (Kipling, Tennyson), and as such masquerade as period pieces.
Music in the HFS can be broken down into two general types, Instrumental and Non-Instrumental. Instrumental music has many different uses and outlets.
From the formal:
- playing for royal processions;
- playing for nobility
To the informal:
- sitting around the campfire entertaining camp mates;
- marching to the battle or list field;
Non-Instrumental music is primarily made up of singing, though whistling, humming, and clapping all qualify as well. England's Henry the second's favorite performer was famous for his ability to "flatulate tunefully" (not that we're advocating that sort of thing...). Singing can range from mournful love songs to bawdy ballads; from sacred church hymns to rousing marching anthems; as a group, or solo. It's all welcome in the HFS.
The Five Basic Tasks of Bardic ArtsEdit
Task #1 - Collecting MaterialEdit
You should collect all the material you can, from as many different sources as possible. There are a host of books on period music available commercially, and many good songbooks published by and for the people of the Society. Check your local or a nearby university library for obscure and out-of-print works. (Used bookstores, too.) You need not limit yourself to resources that deal solely with our period, or that deal with it at all for that matter, as much useful information can be found in books on related topics. You will find some that are not very good, but you won't know that until you've read them. The more information you have, the more you will be able to find just what you're looking for. Finding just the right piece is like finding a needle in a haystack, but you have to have a haystack to look in first.
Task #2 - Choosing a PieceEdit
The first thing anyone who wants to perform in the Society must do is choose something to perform. This is also the most difficult thing for the novice or occasional performer. There are many factors to take into account:
1) Is it something I want to do?
Not everything appeals to everyone, and performers are sometimes requested to perform things that they might not really like, especially when it is popular. There will be other pieces that a bard is asked to perform so often that they have grown tiered of it. In most cases you're better off politely refusing to do a given piece.
2) Is it something I can do, and if so what will it take?
Not every performer has the ability to do every piece. If a good performance of a given piece is beyond your range or requires accompaniment you cannot provide (or have provided), you should wait until you can give a good performance or acquire the accompaniment you need.
3) Is appropriate for the group I'll be performing for?
Every group has a personality and a tone, which you must learn to recognize. If you will be singing in an area where period music is considered the standard, save the war songs and perform your most period or period-sounding material. If filk or folk are more to the local taste, don't feel that you can't do period pieces, but choose ones that are light, accessible, and shorter rather than longer. If the audience includes children, small or otherwise, you should never perform bawdy pieces, and be cautious in regard to raucous ones.
4) Is it a piece that someone else is doing and if so will that person be planning on performing it?
In many areas, one performer is associated with a particular song, because they wrote it or because they have made a point of performing it often. In either case, it is considered good manners not to perform material that has already been, or is likely to be, performed by someone else. This does not mean that you must never perform these songs, but you should be sensitive: if the piece you're considering was written by or is regularly performed by someone who lives in the area, it's best to avoid it when you're there, or when they are present at the event.
Task #3 - Practice, Practice, PracticeEdit
With enough practice, 100% of the problems encountered in bardic performance can be eliminated. It's really that simple. You must know the piece forward and backward. You must be able to do it surrounded by complete silence, in the middle of a crowded feast hall, or around a fire with smoke in your eyes and people talking in the distance. You must practice because practice breeds confidence, and confidence is the difference between reading a piece and performing it. There is no substitute. These are some things you should keep in mind:
1) Practice is performance for an audience of one.
Don't do anything in practice that you do not intend to do in performance. Most of all, don't stop in the middle of something to correct yourself, and don't do anything to acknowledge to anyone that you've made a mistake. If you should
mispronounce a word practicing, then stop and start over, it's a sure bet that when you make a mistake in performance you'll stop and start over. This is not good. Nine times out of ten the only person on the planet that knows you've made a mistake is you...right up until you stop, say something like "Oh, sorry," or "I screwed up", and start over.
2) Practice is performance for an audience of one, part two.
If you plan to walk around, gesture to the clouds, whatever, you need to do that thing in practice. Don't trust to luck what can be insured by preparation. You may feel slightly foolish, beckoning to phantom fighters alone at home, but the action will be much smoother and more graceful in
front of a audience if you've done it before, and the more often before the better.
3) Be consistent in practice.
Don't rearrange words or change melodies or meter from one practice to the next. If you have an idea for a change you'd like to make, give it a try, spend a little time and play with it. If you decide to keep it, practice the piece that way from that point on.
4) Be consistent in practice, part two.
Find a regular time to practice, every day if possible. It may be while you're waiting for a bus, in the shower, or after the kids have gone to school (or after you've gotten home from school). Whenever it is, it must happen regularly. All too often, practice is conducted on a catch-as-catch-can basis, and all too often it's not.
Task #4 PerformanceEdit
You can ignore everything up to this point and still be a bard (though probably not a good one). But the one thing you must do is perform. You may have the greatest voice and the finest material, if no one hears it, what have you accomplished? It's not easy to work up the courage to stand up in a bardic circle with all those strangers out there, but it's got to be done, and you knew the job was dangerous when you took it.
1) Perform every chance you get.
And that means for anyone who'll stand still long enough to hear you. If they move off mid-performance let them, seek another audience. This is the best cure for a number of illnesses. Stage fright, lack of confidence, inability to read an audience. Almost everything you need to know can be learned from the experience of performance in front of an audience.
2) Learn to keep a critical eye on your own performance.
You must be able to distance yourself from your performance, to give it a critical evaluation while it's happening. Are the people listening to you? If not, what are they listening to? Maybe you need to be louder. On the other hand, if people in the front flinch every time you hit a high note, maybe you should back off a bit.
3) Don't let yourself be intimidated.
We've all had it happen. We sit down at a bardic circle, and the Lord or Lady next to us stands up and blows the crowd away. Maybe they play an instrument; maybe they have a voice to die for. They finish amidst thunderous applause, and then all too quickly everyone is looking at you. You may think you have choices, stand or flee, but in fact there is only one choice, Stand! You came here to perform, and you may not be the best bard in the room, but you are just as much a professional as anyone, you've done your homework, you're ready to go, so go!! Once you've started running, it's very hard to turn and face the foe, so don't run.
4) After it's over, let it go.
You're not only as good as your last performance; you're only as good as your next one. The last one is gone for better or worse: it cannot be called back. If you were great, that's good, but it's over now. If you were less than great, that's bad but it's gone too. So either go on to your next performance, or go back to practice and get better. Your best option is to do both. No matter what, you cannot allow yourself to carry around feelings from the last time you performed. If you were good, you may not feel the need to practice so hard, which is what made you good to begin with. If you were bad, you may be sorely tempted to abandon the quest, or too frightened to continue. Both are traps you must avoid.
Task #5 An Honest EvaluationEdit
You did it. You researched material, you chose the piece you wanted to do, you practiced until you could do it in your sleep, then you went to the bardic circle and did it, and it went great! Now what? After the revel or Arts & Sciences Competition is over and you're back in the real world, you need to ask yourself some questions, and you need to be honest about the answers.
1) What did I do right?
Was the pace perfect? Was your voice in good form? Did you change the tempo at just the right moment, and give it that gentle push from good to great? Pat yourself on the back and remember what you did for next time.
2) What did I do wrong?
Did you forget the first line of the second verse? Need more practice. Did you do an eight-minute piece in less than three minutes? Need more practice. Were you so quiet that no one more than three feet away could hear you? Need more practice. Get it?
3) What would I change?
Next time don't try and sing to everyone in the feast hall at the same time. Next time you do that piece hold the final note a little longer, say the last line a little slower, pause before revealing the answer to the riddle. Smile more, frown more, make more eye contact...
Where to from here?Edit
As the commercial says, "Where do you want to go today"? The bardic arts are vast and ever-changing. One day you'll be doing Childe Ballads, the next they'll be screaming for filks. One event you'll do scenes from Shakespeare, the next Comedia, the week after that something about Odin and an eight legged horse. The possibilities are endless. You could learn Welsh, every version of "The Cruel Sister" (well, a bunch of them at least), or memorize a 400 line Norse saga.
Whatever you do, if you follow the course I've set out here you'll do well, and pretty soon people will be asking you if you'll be at the bardic circle tonight, or if you'll come to their encampment later and sing something. As you make your way through the Society you will meet all sorts of people, and you'll learn to touch the hearts of people whose names you'll never know. In time you'll become an integral and important part of your Kingdom, and people will leave the tournaments with your songs, stories, poems and riddles echoing in their hearts and hoping that you'll be at the next event.Bardic