period studies SCA

Mudthaw / Crown A&S

Saturday was Mudthaw in the Barony of Settmour Swamp (Central NJ), which features the East Kingdom’s Crown Arts & Sciences championships. It was an eventful day for us, and my first time competing in a kingdom A&S competition.

My entry was “I asked of thee a boon”, my original Elizabethan air for four voices and lute that was first performed at the Laurel’s Prize Tourney in 2017. A&S entries created within the last 3 years are eligible, and I am proud of this piece, and wanted to see how it would be received in a formal competitive setting, and get the experience of discussing my art with interested parties and going through a judging process.

I really enjoyed it, actually, though as I had heard, performance pieces tend to be an awkward fit for the A&S competition format. Most entries are crafted or constructed items–garments, artwork, tools, musical instruments–that can be examined with the eyes. Others are research papers that can be read and discussed. Mine was a song for five performers, for which I had accompanying documentation, and carefully-crafted songbook music appropriate to the period that I had put together using software, along with modern notation. I was one of two performance entries, the other being a researched song by Sayyida Laila al-Sanna’ al-Andalusiyya, Queen’s Bard. Each of us would be given a chance to perform our piece for our judges shortly before our judging round began, but there wouldn’t be a formal performance venue with an audience the way the Laurels Prize Tourney did it, and except for those few minutes, no one else would see the performances.

At my A&S display table with my neighbor Ysemay Sterling.

Mistress Lissa, the deputy A&S minister (who would succeed Master Phillip White as minister at the end of the day), had suggested that I bring an iPad with headphones, so I could let people listen to a recording or watch a video of the performance. I did, as did Laila, and that worked reasonably well (the site had WiFi). It did mean, however, that only one person at a time could experience the video in full (maybe I’ll use two pairs and a splitter in the future). Nevertheless, it was intriguing watching people as they experienced the original debut performance, and then discussing it with them, or letting them read through my documentation. I realized that it was important to explain that the song was my own original words, music, and arrangement, since that isn’t something most people are assuming about an A&S piece.

For the live performance itself, I had managed to recruit another killer team: Udalrich Schermer, who had played the piece for me at Pennsic two years back, on lute; Laila on soprano; my new friend Eithne Inghean Mael Duin (who was herself entering for the first time with baked sweets) on alto; and the ever reliable John Fitz Thomas once more on bass. I was grateful that the singers managed to rehearse with me a few weeks back, and Udalrich had taken time to refamiliarize himself with the lute arrangement. We only got 10 minutes during the event itself to actually run it together, twice…but it was clear that that would be enough. Jess was on hand to record the best live performance of it we’ve ever done.

The team of judges assigned to both of the performance entries consisted of Isabeau d’Orleans, Margreþa la Fauvelle (King’s Bard), and Eleanore le Brun. We only had a relatively brief conversation, but it was clear that my documentation had told them most of what they needed to know (and, of course, I had widely shared and written about this piece when it debuted).

One piece of feedback they offered was wonderful, and I do wish I’d thought to try it on my own: having put so much effort into recreating the songbook format, I could have placed that on a table, positioned the performers around it as the layout dictated, and performed it as if we were rehearsing the piece using a single copy as would have been done with the real songbook. The singers could have worked from their own sheet music, and just not displayed it too prominently. That would have made the sheet music central to the performance instead of an afterthought, and taken the judges into the period experience. They also would have liked it if all the performers were dressed in Elizabethan, as was the case with the original performance, but I will own that that was more than I was willing to ask from busy participants at this event. I didn’t get my scoresheet, though I did get a feedback sheet that reiterated these points, but I’ll be getting that from Lissa in a few days.

All in all, they were impressed with my documentation and my research, and that the piece did not present dissonance problems in live performance. (That was a result of making sure we were better prepared; I actually hadn’t changed a note of the composition itself.) I wasn’t chosen as a finalist, but I wasn’t expecting to, and that hadn’t been my goal. [UPDATE: Lissa posted on Facebook about the competition, and name-checked “other top scoring entrants of the day”, which included myself, as well as former Bardic champions Ysemay Sterling and Aethelfleid Brewbane. That is pretty satisfying.]

Elsewhere, there was plenty going on that I couldn’t give much focus at the time from my A&S table. My friend Agnes had come down to serve as a shadow judge (trainee). I was delighted to see my friend and fellow bard Amalie von Hohensee make it to the finals for her book cover. On the field, Agnes’s son Jay fought for two hours, covering himself with glory, and the wonderful Phelippe de Vigneron was apprenticed formally to Margreþa, and awarded the Order of the Silver Rapier on the battlefield. Mudthaw is like that, and no one can see everything that goes on.

I wished that I had gotten time to discuss my work with the Royals–particularly after so much ABBA filk, I wanted to give them a taste of what else I could create–but the challenges of their time demands, and the uneasy fit of performance into this format, prevented that from happening. That’s how it goes–certainly, I will not claim that I am starved for the attention of our royalty, and all of this material is available online. (I have updated the documentation on the song page with the revised A&S submission–after making the font size larger so that it is less punishing to read. I have to stop obsessing over how many pages I’m using–it was within the rule limits even at 11 point.)

And of course, the royals (and my family and some of our friends) knew something I didn’t, that was waiting for final court…

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.

They had just inducted a new member into the Order of the Silver Wheel (first level service award), and they asked her to make room for more newcomers. This was going to be fun. I deeply admire the service orders, even as I know that really isn’t my path or where I put my energy, so I was curious who else was going to be recognized.

Which is when I found out that the blindsides were not actually finished… “Their Majesties demand the presence of Drake Oranwood!”

Now, I have been “gotten” before. Once or twice I’ve at least suspected that I was going to be called up for something, but generally the SCA’s favorite pastime–catching award recipients by surprise–works. But never before had I been so genuinely confused that I really wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly. My wife had a devilish grin on her face that told me she had known this was coming, though, and a heartening cheer from the populace suggested strongly that this made sense to someone. So I…got up.

wheel scrollI was getting a service award? Ohhhhkay…I knelt before the throne, and the perplexity was still on my face. Her Majesty started to talk about my service. She used the word “fundraising”, and described the auctions I’ve contributed to, and the donations I had pulled together for the kingdom. Wait…is this about Sing for the East? But I just did that because it was a cool idea and it needed someone to make it happen. I wasn’t looking for an…

And it clicked. Everyone I’ve ever watched get a service award has said something like that. And I blushed to the roots of my hair.

And my friend Lorita de Siena came out, and sang my scroll to me. Because it was a filk…of “We Are the East”. And I had a beautiful Silver Wheel pendant put around my neck (cast by Sólveig, as it turns out!). And ultimately I joined my new order along with five or six others, still a little dazed. But happy.

So…crazy day. Still shaking my head just a little…but who am I to argue with royalty?

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