Laurels’ Prize Tourney: First Thoughts

I have been a performer in my blood for as far back as I can remember, to childhood. I have never really not enjoyed performing. The last several years have blessed me with opportunities to perform for loving, supportive, appreciative audiences, and more and more, alongside talented people I admire and adore. It is, really, always a thrill. (No, I’m not saying I’ve never tanked. Different kind of thrill.)

And yet, sprinkled through the joyous memories, including some extremely special ones, there are a small handful of moments that stand out, that were extraordinary. Days or nights where I felt a performance, and the audience, vibrating together in my chest, an electric excitement, when I felt something truly glorious was happening, and I was privileged to be in the eye of a storm, somehow miraculously safe and well.

Yesterday was one of those days. (Video courtesy of Baroness Arlyana van Wyck.)

This event helped me understand how people fall in love with A&S in the Society.

I have so many people to thank for their crucial roles in making this experience happen, and I know this isn’t comprehensive.

  • I have to give a special place of honor (and a 50% hazard pay bonus) to the performers who joined the project this last week, when both my original female vocalists lost their voices. I asked Leonora di Ferrara to take over as my soprano one week before the event, and she agreed, even though she would be flying home from Indiana late the night before the event and have to get up early to schlep from New York to Boston that morning. (It got better: she missed her connecting flight home and got stranded in Chicago the night before, and managed to sweet-talk someone at the airline into getting her a seat on a surprise flight to NY that had just gotten rerouted, by telling them that she needed to sing at a performance the next day. This is a consummate performer.) Playing mostly as she does in the Kingdom of Acre, she was an unknown in the East, so no one was prepared for the rich, beautiful, expressive vocals she wrapped my music in. Well, two of us knew, since we’d sung with her at Pennsic. That would be myself, and…
  • My second emergency replacement, Cedar-San Barefoot, who had agreed to come to the event just to check out the razzle and dazzle on Wednesday. On Thursday, when my alto lost her voice, I gently begged Cedar to consider trying to learn the part and perform with us in two days’ time. Anyone who knows Cedar knows they are fearless, which didn’t mean they weren’t daunted by the task. But they pulled it off beautifully.
  • Lord John Fitz Thomas agreed to be my bass back when I was finishing the music two months ago. I had sung with him and heard his ability to refine parts quickly back in December at the Feast of St. Nicholas, so he was a natural choice, and I was deeply grateful to him for throwing on Elizabethan one more time.
  • My original soprano, Lady Sólveig Bjarnardóttir, and my original alto, Gwenyn Llewelyn, both from Maine, had worked as a team to organize and lead the choral work at the St. Nicholas event, so they too were obvious choices, and both were bitterly disappointed at being sidelined by their illness, as was I. But without the experience and the modelling they provided for me in December, I would never have been able to pull this off yesterday, so even though they weren’t able to perform, they have my undying gratitude for their irreplaceable contributions to this effort.
  • Don Donal Artur of the Silver Band has lent his extensive experience on guitar to me before, on the recording for “The Name of the King”. But Don goes back further, having first shown me what accompaniment would sound like with my music, and encouraged me to attend my first K&Q Bardic. Realizing the event would be local to him, I quickly asked him to consider playing for me, knowing he’d never done a lute piece. But I also trusted his superior finger-picking skills would allow him to transition to lute music, and I was right.
  • Lady Isolde de Lengadoc, currently of Atlantia, who is always willing to help me prepare a collaborative piece so that it’s easier to learn. Once again, she took the time to learn the female vocal harmonies I had worked out, and recorded them as learning tracks for my performers. And her praise, as a teacher on the topic of writing period style music, fed my soul, as it always does.
  • My first teacher, Maistre Lucien de Pontivy, who set me on the course of loving Elizabethan music and striving to re-create it, and whom I was incredibly pleased to have there to witness this and give me his feedback. This piece originated from one of his most exciting assignments to me (and indeed, I’ve been reaping the benefits of that assignment for 3 months in a row, performing “The Binding of Isaac” with my son last month at K&Q, and publishing a research paper primarily on “My Love Hath Vowed” in January.) And speaking of research papers, I mustn’t forget Lucien’s magnificent wife…
  • Mistress Aildreda de Tamwerthe, who brought the Laurels’ Prize Tourney back to the kingdom, sweating every detail to make it as beautiful, inviting, and seamless as possible. Dreda continues to model dedication to art, mentoring, and patronage with elegance and grace.
  • My Laurel, Mistress Zsof, who encouraged me throughout this process, helped keep my eye on the prize and limit distractions, proofed my documentation, flew out to the event, and even took the video when Cedar, who’d planned to record it, ended up on stage. I’m so grateful for the one-on-one time we got yesterday, as always. (And yes, I promise, I’m almost as proud of myself as I know you are of me.)
  • Master Peregrine the Illuminator, for issuing this fantastic challenge, and pouring as much effort (if not quite as much time) into examining my work in the two weeks before the event as I poured into creating it. His praise rings in my ears, and his critique and instruction (along with the book and reams of notes and sources) are a gift and a mark of respect I will do my best to live up to.
  • Mistress Lakshmi Amman of Sri Ranganatha Temple, for a challenge that focused me on being in the moment authentically as I’ve never tried before, and for the boundless love and enthusiasm she shared with all of us performers about what we do and how, frankly, magical it can be. The peacock is beautiful, and honestly kinda matches my feelings at the moment.
  • Master Angus Pembridge, for the careful and thoughtful elucidation during his A&S consultation on my piece, explaining the rubrics, and for an awareness of my work and how it has progressed over the years that honors me deeply, since I hadn’t realized how much he’d followed it. I had hoped I was ready to more fully embrace the A&S community. After our talk, now I know.
  • Master Magnus Hvalmagi, one of my oldest and dearest friends, who gave me my first embrace as an Eastern bard (literally, right off my feet) back at my first Winter Nights. I’ve watched his meteoric rise, and when he, with that gleam in his eye and, well, creative use of period language, let me know I’d done something he was envious of…man, there are no words. From a deli owner, that’s a rave. (Okay, so there are words.)
  • The other performers, the other Laurels who issued challenges, and all the artisans who brought their geeky passion to this. They made us all feel welcome and I want more. 
  • The audience. I felt us suspended on their eyes and ears. The love and support of an SCA audience is always a gift, but an audience prepared to appreciate authentic blood-sweat-and-tears work makes one feel seen, and chosen.
  • Baroness Alanna of Skye, who swapped roomies with my wife  for the weekend and was a gracious and supportive crash space hostess. So glad to spend the time with her, and watch her leap into action to help in the kitchen unprompted.
  • And, finally, my wife, Lady Jessa de Hunteleghe, who wasn’t at the event, but without whose support and (nearly) endless patience I could never have done any of this. Knowing that, now that this one is done, she is happy and proud of me, gives me no end of peace. And I’m just so glad to be home and in her arms again.
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