bardic SCA

Black Rose Ball

My family attended our first Black Rose Ball at the Barony of the Bridge on Saturday. It was a lovely event, full of sweet surprises.

For one, I got to see several friends receive recognition and step into new opportunities. Early in the day, their Majesties bestowed the Order of the Troubadour on Agnes Marie de Calais, who had bowled them over at K&Q Bardic Champs a few weeks earlier. They had called her name in court, but she had left before court that day, and sadly, she was ill and unable to receive it in person. However, Duchess Avelina Keyes received it on her behalf.

Avelina, as it happens, also had a big day, stepping up as the newest Baroness Bridge. She had a very short court and gave no speeches, but her interest in just having the day move along for everyone’s enjoyment is part of the authenticity that makes her so beloved.

A big surprise for the day was our friend Cateline La Broderesse, who was delightfully ambushed into vigil for her elevation to the Order of the Pelican. A dedicated photo-chronicler and seamstress, Cateline has amply earned this promotion, and the look on her face was priceless.

Black Rose Ball is, of course, a dance event, and so there were plenty of musicians there. I don’t know when I’ve seen so many lutes in one place. Udalrich Schermer, a talented lutenist (who will be collaborating next weekend with me at Mudthaw) was in attendance, as well as Carl the Oblique, a mandolin player who remembered me from teaching “My Guitar’s Persona Is a Lute” last Pennsic. And despite the presence of so many “real” lutenists, I was happy to find opportunities to give Rosalind some air and provide a bit of lute guitar at vigil and during the feast (which was done mid-afternoon, since the evening was for dancing). I hadn’t played Rosalind since K&Q, and it was nice to share some music in the more background but also more intimate context of a feast. Several feast-goers were expressive in their enjoyment, not least of them her Highness Fortune St. Keyne. (Normally I only see that look when people are sampling my wife’s truffles, so it was deeply gratifying.)

So it was largely, for me, one of those low-key events where there time to catch up with friends, make some new ones, and enjoy the atmosphere. Jess had time to connect to her Pelican, Brid ni Shearlais, that she hadn’t had in a long while.

But I knew I had one more surprise up my sleeve for the royals. I had my final ABBA filk in my back pocket, and this was going to be the last chance to share it with them (Mudthaw will have K&Q A&S and be too busy, and we sadly are unable to attend Ôzurr and Fortune’s Coronation). Vienna kindly assured me she and Wilhelm would once again make time for me in afternoon court.

So, a confession. I know I second-guessed my choice to save this piece at K&Q Bardic for the finals, and I ended up not getting to perform it. I was wrong. This piece was inspired by Ôzurr, the first unbelted (not yet knighted) fighter to win the Eastern crown in some 30 years, and it would never have been the right choice to perform it without him and Fortune present. I will never be sorry that this was the event where I shared this filk. (Song page with lyrics and writing notes here.)

The intro worked very well, along with the choice to place myself where I could make eye contact with the populace and the royals at the same time as I sang. I haven’t had the chance to get to know their Highnesses yet, and their obvious enjoyment of the piece, and putting Ôzurr in the spotlight, made it work that much better. (I did take a moment to “apologize” to Fortune later, as the “burn” on Gwynevere in the lyrics was certainly not meant to get any backsplash on her, which got a chuckle from her Highness.)

But it turned out their Majesties had a surprise up their sleeves for me as well. And since Jess knew about it, she was able to record it. (Total blindside. Respect.)

The royals of the East Kingdom are each only permitted to bestow up to 10 Cyphers in a reign, so this was an honor that had never even crossed my mind. I’m incredibly humbled by it.

Wilhelm and Vienna have modeled authenticity, compassion, vulnerability, and humanity as royals every time I have seen them. No one is perfect, and being the heads of any SCA kingdom, especially one as large and diverse as the East, has clearly become an ever more daunting and exhausting challenge, especially these last few years. But this couple has taken time and gone out of their way to be approachable, welcoming, and connected to the kingdom. They have taken time at every event to sit at a table in public space, without their hats, for anyone to talk with or ask questions.

From the moment I met them, I had wanted to support Wilhelm and Vienna in whatever way I could. Until this moment, though, I hadn’t fully recognized how much I had wanted to play some part in their legacy. Until I heard his Majesty describe how he had experienced it.

The thing about creating and sharing these ABBA filks for me, was that it brought back what made me fall in love with Bardic, what I tell anyone who starts to say they wish they could be a bard but they don’t think they’re “enough” for that:

All you have to do is get up and sing.

Delivering that first filk made Wilhelm roar with laughter, and made Vienna light up with joy. I remember Jess beaming at their reaction, and their guards’ reaction, to that first private performance. And seeing and hearing that first crowd at Ceilidh laughing and dancing and singing along, in court…it was electrical. It was communal and primal and addictive. It was the everything I love about performing.

And, let’s face it, ABBA is ABBA for a reason. They are the masters of sticky, chewy, sugary, earworming Europop perfection. They produce every track with obsessive, maniacal precision, honing it until the product goes straight through the ears and into the bloodstream. They take every aspect of their music seriously, and have entirely too much fun performing it in their videos.

Of course I loved finding a way to sing ABBA at SCA events. Have you met me? Have you heard any of my recordings? My approach and sensibility are quite different from theirs, and I certainly can’t compare to their decades of experience or musical training. But as a musician and performer, yes, they are kindred spirits and I respect the hell out of their dedication to their songcraft.

This was a useful reminder to me that I don’t need to have a job in the SCA to get out to more events. I do it because these are my people, and we have fun together. I often have more fun when I don’t have any big plans, just a little mischief, or just friends to see and to make. This is a sweet bunch of people.

One reply on “Black Rose Ball”

[…] Mudthaw court, which was Wilhelm and Vienna’s final afternoon court (they step down next weekend), was long and packed, but rich and full of emotion. Three of the most beautiful elevations I’ve ever seen, two Laurels and a Knighthood, took place. Eithne received the King’s Award of Esteem. I was content to sit back and enjoy it, knowing I wasn’t advancing further, and that I’d just been blindsided with the King’s Cypher the previous weekend. […]


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