bardic Competition

Baronial Bard of Concordia of the Snows

This past Saturday was the Bjorn’s Ceilidh event up in Concordia, and it was my family’s first SCA event together since Pennsic. Things were a bit subdued with everyone processing the results of the presidential election, but it was really good to get a day with so many of our friends once more.

The Baron and Baroness held a competition to select their new Bardic Champion, and I elected to compete. Last year I was keeping my powder dry while preparing for King’s and Queen’s, but that meant I had expanded my repertoire a bit, and had some pieces in my pocket that hadn’t been seen yet.

I was one of only two competitors, which is a little less usual for Concordia, with its strong bardic culture. But (as his Excellency Jean-Paule pointed out later on in court) a two-way contest with two strong contenders can be harder to call than when there are more performers. Robert of Anglespur, who is also Concordia’s current champion of Rapier, is young, talented, and full of energy and joy. He loves performing, though he has focused more on other SCA pursuits. But he gave three fantastic performances, which made me glad I had spent a couple months preparing, and made it a close-fought thing–and as someone who finds competition a really useful spur to achievement, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The three-round format had been announced a couple of weeks earlier by Olivia Baker (who, as former bardic champion, was running the event in the absence of the outgoing champion, Cedar the Barefoot, who is currently studying in London):

  1. Perform the piece you know best. I selected “We Are the East”, which I’ve been performing a lot this year–and while it’s my newest finished piece, I’m very solid with it, and it’s a crowd-pleaser. (And Baroness Lylie had made it clear she adored it, so when I’m being asked to do something in my wheelhouse, why not?)
  2. Perform a brand-new piece you’ve never performed in competition before. The two stories I had developed for K&Q but not gotten the chance to use came immediately to mind, and I went with the serious one: “Fionn and Sabha (the Birth of Oisin)”, which I had discovered online back in the winter and fallen in love with, and spent a week or two curating from a few different sources. I knew it would be good to show some range, and Concordia in particular loves a good period Irish story. However, I’d never heard anyone tell this story, though Fionn MacCoul and Oisin are popular figures in Irish mytholoty (father and son, as this story establishes). The biggest trick was getting my version committed to memory to the point that the phrasings range nicely without sounding over-rehearsed. It went over beautifully.
  3. Perform a documentable period piece. Having worked for a year on a set of six Elizabethan lute pieces, I just had to pick one, and I went with something lighter: Thomas Campion’s “I Care Not for these Ladies”. I sang it fine, but while I felt really comfortable with how well I was playing it in rehearsal, I knew it would degrade in performance. Unlike at K&Q, where I was able to get the period lute piece out of the way in the first round while I was fresh, here I was stuck doing it at the end when my nerves were building, and I could feel it in my hands. They stumbled a good bit, and at one point I simply lost my fingering altogether for most of a stanza. But I kept singing through, and my fingers found their place again on the repeat. I had to hope that their Excellencies would bear in mind the degree of difficulty I had taken on accompanying myself on a lute piece. (I’m rather proud of this one, because I learned it entirely from a facsimile of the page from Campion’s A Book of Ayres, which was the first piece I’d attempted that with.) My opening line when bringing in my backpacker–“This isn’t a lute, but its persona is,” certainly got a great laugh.

Ultimately, the careful choices and preparation paid off, and I was called up as the new Baronial Bard. Their Excellencies very generously spent a few moments reflecting on what it was that impressed them about each of my performances. I had the satisfaction of knowing that all of my careful choices had registered exactly as I had hoped. His Excellency mentioned that the moment that had put me over the top was seeing me stay in the moment when I completely flubbed my fingering.

It didn’t occur to me until later, when I was standing as champion during the remainder of court, that they hadn’t asked me to swear fealty to Concordia. I took that as a point of pride, since I have twice offered it (back at our first Roses in Pierre’s court, and at JP and Lylie’s investiture as Baron and Baroness), and clearly no one felt there was any need to have me demonstrate my loyalty again. Later, Lylie said with a laugh that she’s thought of me as Concordian for so long it didn’t even cross her mind to ask for it.

I will mention also that my son Spencer had a couple of moments to shine as well. He performed as an exhibitor during the bardic competition, a story he has been developing, and it was well-received. His voice and his enthusiasm for storytelling continue to impress. He also participated in the Pun Contest, and won for the second year running. (This marks two events this year where my boy and I have both been blessed with recognition.)

Also I will note that, even in absentia, Cedar managed to fulfill the duties of the outgoing Baronial Bard with customary wit and panache. Olivia read to the court their farewell missive and poem, both of which were touching, funny, and beautiful.

All in all, it was a lovely day, much-needed at this moment. A chance to see many adored old friends and remember where we belong. Thank you to their Excellencies for honoring me with this position; vivant to everyone else who was honored with recognition at court; thank you to all the wonderful Scadians who put so much effort into organizing and providing the event, the games, and the food; and thank you to everyone who made it out to Ceilidh. I look forward to fulfilling my responsibilities as Baronial Bard for the coming year, and bearing my new regalia with pride.

6 replies on “Baronial Bard of Concordia of the Snows”

[…] The event included a sumptuous multi-course (and multi-tiered) feast, which emulated period practice of providing different levels of experience depending on where you were seated: “above the salt” (the “good seats”), “below the salt” (the “cheap seats”), and staff (the “help”). There was no level where you weren’t going to experience fantastic food and entertainment, and I considered this a cool (if possibly controversial) twist. There was entertainment throughout the day: live musicians, period choral music and solo singers during the second course, a mock fencing bout, and a masque (the Elizabethan equivalent of a modern musical: singing, dancing, and a scripted story). I contributed some of the lute songs I’ve been learning during the live music, and sang with the choir and performed a couple of solo pieces. I enjoyed the chance to work with (and finally meet!) my friend Solveig Bjornsdottir from Malagentia in Maine, who did a phenomenal job organizing the choral music, and whipping us into shape with only 90 minutes of live rehearsal. (Kudos to my fellow singers, who included the lovely Cecelia, formerly known as Kirsa who sang with me and Olivia at a past Pennsic concert, and my erstwhile competitor Robert of Anglespur.) […]


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