I’m sitting at my desk and looking at this silver armband that I get to keep for the next year, and there’s this little smile on my face. I’m having a really blessed month.
The Winter Nights bardic tournament is my favorite one-day event that I’ve experienced in the SCA. This was my fourth consecutive time attending. While I have incredible memories of my first time there, this year may have been my favorite–and that was true before I found out I was in a position to win the champion’s armband. I just love this event. It’s a competition, but it’s an incredibly friendly competition. The emphasis is on everyone being able to enjoy performing and seeing others’ performances. It’s a chance for the bards of the East Kingdom to get together and have some extended time to catch up with one another, because this is the one day that’s totally about our thing and nothing else. (The King’s and Queen’s Bardic Championship in the late winter is also focused on bardic, but that spotlight is shared with royalty and kingdom-level glory, and is ultimately about Their Majesties selecting someone to serve them. It’s also a wonderful event, but a very different thing.)
This year was different from previous years in a key respect: it was the first time Winter Nights wasn’t held in Concordia. Sir Michael of York and Mistress Anne of Framingham offered to host it up in Camelot in Massachusetts, since Concordia needed a break. This meant that there were a number of fresh faces of performers and audience members who had never made it to the event before. (And going forward–I’m really excited about this–the event will be rotating yearly between Concordia in Albany, Camelot, and Bhakail down in Philadelphia.) It was exciting to return to issuing challenges in pairs, “oxhide” style (which had been absent last year). And Sir Michael, who did a splendid job emceeing the event, honed the rules in a way that I found really enjoyable: up to 2 points for issuing a good friendly challenge; up to 2 points for incorporating the challenge in your performance; and up to 3 points for the quality of the performance. And a welcome innovation was the introductory round, where bards introduced themselves and selected a piece to perform without challenges so we could get to know each other.
The result, from my vantage point, was a day filled with the highest-caliber performances I’d seen at this event. Certainly, I felt it pushed me in a very nice way. (I was also operating under some internal rules I’d imposed on myself. After the intro round, I would choose a period piece I had ready if possible to meet the challenge; failing that, a song I knew by somebody other than me; and only if I couldn’t come up with a good answer from either of these pools would I use something of my own.) Reaching into my period repertoire was really fun: It resulted in my performing Marc Antony’s “dogs of war” speech from Julius Caesar and Thomas Campion’s “I Care Not for These Ladies”, which I’d never performed for a bardic audience before.
I came to enjoy the day, though, and while I always play to win in a competition, and I played hard, I wasn’t there to win. (Honest.) This was the first time I got to see Maistre Lucien since I left his tutelage in January, and time with him and his lovely wife Mistress Aldreda was a joy. I also got time with my good friend Aneleda Falconbridge and the much-admired Countess Marguerite (though she was attending under her Hindu storyteller persona). And two good new friends, fledgling bards Cedar the Barefoot and Mattias, were there strutting their stuff and showing the community what we all had to look forward to from these bright new talents.
I was, nonetheless, pleased and excited when Sir Michael announced that I was tied with Mistress Aife ingen Chonchobair in Derthaige for the top score for the day, and we would issue each other one final challenge to determine the champion. Aife was the champion of the very first Winter Nights, and past King’s and Queen’s bard of the East. She is a lethal competitor–and playing on the root of that word, I offered her the challenge “sleep”. She challenged me with a period piece about war–which had me white-knuckled for a few moments, until I recalled Ken and Lisa Theriot’s wonderful song “Band of Brothers”, adapted from the “St. Crispin’s Day” speech in Henry V. It is a crowd-pleaser, and it managed to carry the day.
It’s impossible to capture all the joys of an event like this (and while this isn’t an insane blow-by-blow like my write-up of my first Winter Nights, it’s already a pretty long post). I’ll just say again how much I love this community, and what a joy it is to be a part of it, and to have won some measure of respect from my fellow bards.