Masters of the Game (Hartshorn-dale)

This song was commissioned by Alison Wodehalle for the shire of Hartshorn-dale. It was first performed semi-privately for Alison and members of the shire, at the Coronation of Luis and Margarita in October 2019. The song incorporates the shire’s hunting motif, and drew inspiration from the oldest book about hunting in the English language, The Master of Game (see notes).

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Masters of the Game by Eric Schrager is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Masters of the Game (The Hartshorn-dale Hunting Song) © 2019 by Eric Schrager

Look! The sun is risen, the hunt must start.
We must bring home game; each will play their part.
You all know the need:
Masses we must feed!
Don’t be staggered, this group has the heart… [1]

(CHORUS)
To the hunt we go, leaving halls of blue and gold. [2]
Crying “Tally-ho!” when we hear the bugle bold. [3]
Soon we’ll drink, Wassail! Dance and feasting bring us fame. [4]
Now we’re on the trail!
Our hounds won’t fail!
In Hartshorn-dale, we’re Masters of the Game! [5]

Hrolfr and Diana we all adore.
She who once inspired the Pennsic War.
Hrolfr lit the fire,
They helped launch a shire,
Teaching dances, while we hunt for more… [6] (CH)

Always on the scent, but where-e’er we roam,
Galliards and Games will we bring back home,
Michel masters each,
Ev’ry game he’ll teach,
So much better than some dusty tome… [7] (CH)

Hunting for flamingoes, they always lurk,
Full of games and tricks, and they wear a smirk.
In a drunken pose–
Hiding on our clothes!
Tracking them is never-ending work… [8] (CH)

On the hunt for fencers to cross a blade,
Notables to dine with at feasts arrayed,
Classes we can take,
Nessie on the lake,
Friends to meet, and mem’ries to be made… [9]

(CHORUS)
From the hunt we come, back to halls of blue and gold.
So we strike the drum, and we sound the bugle bold.
And we’ll drink, Wassail! Dance and feasting bring us fame.
We are strong and hale!
Let’s share our tale!
In Hartshorn-dale, we’re Masters… [10]

To the hunt we go, leaving halls of blue and gold. [11]
Crying “Tally-ho!” when we hear the bugle bold.
Soon we’ll drink, Wassail! Dance and feasting bring us fame.
Now we’re on the trail!
Our hounds won’t fail!
In Hartshorn-dale, we’re Masters of the Game!


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Notes

Sources:

  • Alison Wodehalle, who commissioned the song, and provided me notes on the history, culture, and iconography of Hartshorn-dale.
  • “The Medieval Stag Hunt”, by William H. Forsyth, from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 10, No. 7, March 1952. This article describes medieval English hunting, using as its primary source the book The Master of Game (ca 1406-1413) by Edward of Norwich, second Duke of York (and Royal Master of Game to King Henry IV). The oldest book in English about hunting, it is in part a translation of Le Livre de la chasse by Gaston Phoebus, and contains illustrations of the hunt. The article also includes tapestries showing medieval hunts on display in the Met.
  • My co-teacher Master Peregrine the Illuminator, who provided crucial creative advice.

Putting the song together:

I had offered a commission to write an original song as an auction item in fall of 2017, which resulted in the creation of “Shine, Child”, one of my most personal works. It had been challenging, but a lot of fun, so I offered another commission for auction, to fundraise for Wilhelm and Vienna’s reign, in fall of 2018. Alison Wodehalle won the item, and requested a piece for her home group of Hartshorn-dale.

Alison helpfully provided me written notes, which is my preferred way to get research data for a piece, including the following:

I am looking for something that will inspire, but most importantly can be learned. It should have a refrain that all can remember easily and sing or chant for things like marching fighters off to battle, or processing into court (we are hoping to change our status to barony, so hopefully to process our baron and baroness into baronial court). The verses should be brief, and maybe have a simple enough structure that they can added to, like a recitation of our history. I think things like the birthday dirge where everyone knows the refrain and a few verses, but can make up verses on the spot…

Using words that reference hunting, hunting horns/bugles (which is our populace badge), stag’s attire/antlers (our primary heraldry), blue and gold, stags or harts, etc, are great since those are our symbols will be part of our awards.

I was intrigued, but also a bit intimidated. I have written songs for a local group (“Concordian Soil”) and, of course, for a kingdom (“We Are the East”), but those were both communities in which I had spent a great deal of time and some familiarity with the people and the culture. This was going to take some time, and some thought, and in the end some help.

Happily, Alison was very patient, though she did check in every so often to see how I was doing. Ultimately, after Pennsic 48, when the trail seemed to have gone cold (I had a chorus and the start of some verses, but it was coming up on a year and I really didn’t seem to be making progress), I reached out to Peregrine, who had been a tremendous help to me in polishing “I Must Be Silent”, and had now claimed me as his student. Peregrine gave me some helpful ideas on ways to tie the piece together thematically around the hunting motif–wordplay around “game”, and describing a group eagerly hunting for the sorts of SCA fun they enjoyed best. A few weeks later, I tossed out the incomplete tune, and started a fresh hunt for some last bit of inspiration. I needed to have a better sense of what a medieval hunt was like, for terminology and imagery that would make it more lively and vivid.

This search was what led me to “The Medieval Stag Hunt” and The Master of Game. It opens with a quote from the book:

Hunters live in this world more joyfully than any other men. For when the hunter riseth in the morning, he sees a sweet and fair morn and clear weather and bright, and he heareth the song of the small birds, which sing so sweetly with great melody and full of love, each in its language in the best wise it can. . . . And when the sun is risen, he shall see fresh dew upon the small twigs and grasses, and the sun by his virtue shall make them shine. And that is great joy and liking to the hunter’s heart.

I knew at once that I’d found my quarry. The article is 7 pages, including illustrations from Le Livre de la chasse (the primary source for The Master of Game), and photos of tapestries from the Met’s collection. It was full of details describing how the medieval English hunt worked. It communicated to me (as in the passage above) the joys and urgency of a pastoral world, where hunting was still a vital source of sustenance and a necessary skillset.

Illustrations from Le Livre de la Chasse (The Hunting Book) by Gaston Phoebus, the main source for The Master of Game.

As I pored over the article and made highlights, I realized I had initially misread the title of the medieval book as Master of the Game, which I was now humming to myself. I had an upbeat march tune forming. “Masters of the Game” felt like the perfect phrase to tie together the threads of Hartshorn-dale’s culture, history, sense of fun, and the medieval context of the hunt. By the end of the day, I had a complete first draft. Sometimes, you just have to double back and find a fresh trail. My hunt was ended at last, and Alison and the initial HHD audience appeared pleased with what I had brought back from the forest.

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Annotations


[1] The requirement that the verses should be short, and lend themselves to having more verses added by the populace of the shire, means the focus has to be on simplicity. The first verse sets up the hunting theme with a hint of imagery from The Master of Game, because the only real space for that will be in this verse and the chorus. We establish a sense of connection to the outdoors, and our first play with the word “game” which is in our title. “Game” here is somewhat literal–we’re hunting for food, since the shire’s reputation for hospitality means that “masses we must feed”. And, again, since we won’t have more space to get into details of the hunt (and we don’t want to dwell on details of running down or killing animals), let’s reference the animal that was chiefly hunted in England, a buck deer, through a couple of quick puns in the final line, “staggered” and “heart” (it is Hartshorn-dale, after all).


[2] The chorus affords us the best place to focus on the hunting motif of the shire, since we’ll be repeating it. We want as much imagery that ties into the shire’s iconography as possible. Let’s set a jaunty, joyful march, and head out for the hunt, in the first line invoking the shire’s colors, blue and gold.


[3] “Tally-ho!”, the cry to urge on the hounds, can only be dated back in English to the late 18th century, but it derives from French variants such as taïaut, the earlier Middle French tahou or tayo, and the Old French ta ho, which goes back to the 13th. The French term is specific to deer hunting, and thus particularly appropriate.

The bugle references the hunting horn, blown when the quarry is spotted, and the tally-ho cry, or whatever variant would have been in use in England at the time, generally was sounded in response to it. The bugle, in particular, is on the Hartshorn-dale populace badge.


[4] “Wassail” works both as a toasting cry, as well as the beverage consumed for the toast. The drink as well as the choral activity are associated with the winter solstice timeframe, including Christmas and 12th Night. The historical notes Alison provided me included a reference to a 12th Night hosted by the shire where they fed the masses, that was the stuff of legend. So we follow with a callout to the shire’s reputation for dancing and hospitality.


[5] We close the chorus with a quickening of the chase, referencing more hunting imagery (the trail, the hounds), and a triple rhyme bringing the name of the shire into the song, before we close with the song’s title. Ending on “game” will allow the different sorts of games referenced in the verses to all tie back to this as a central theme. It ends up being a bit of fast-paced patter, and I hope the populace doesn’t mind having to sing it so much, but when I debuted the song for them, it sounded like they found it fun, which was the goal.


[6] Baron Hrolfr Hrafnson and Duchessa Diana Alene Tregirtse, husband and wife, are founding members of the shire. Diana was previously wife and queen of Cariadoc of the Bow, who, according to legend, when he was king of the Midrealm, sent a letter to the King of the East challenging him to war. The king who received the letter ignored it, but later, after Cariadoc and Diana moved to the Midrealm and he became king there, he found the letter he himself had written, and accepted the war challenge on behalf of the East Kingdom, thus initiating the first Pennsic War. Diana happily takes the blame for this, saying she and Cariadoc conceived the idea on her honeymoon.

Hrolfr and Diana have been leaders of the shire’s dance community for many years, and referencing that gives us an excuse for another hunting reference.


[7] From Alison’s notes to me: “Games and Galliards. A long running event with a game tourney, a feast and dancing in the evening, well loved and relaxed. Autocrat was Michel Wolfauer, who eventually became the EK Exchequer and historian, and continues to serve quietly on the kingdom level. He has always been the go to guy for rules.”

The “game” tie-in is straightforward, though I reversed the order of the words for scansion, and to let the emphasis fall on “Games”. And of course, “on the scent” gives us another hunting reference.


[8] Inflatable flamingoes are an old running gag that still shows up at Pennsic. This apparently originated with a joke played on Hartshorn-dale when they had their own encampment at war. A neighboring group planted plastic flamingoes throughout the camp in the dead of night, and the birds started showing up everywhere for the rest of the war as the shirefolk tried to “find homes” for them. Ultimately, Hartshorn-dale had their revenge, and dumped the flamingoes, along with empty beer bottles, in the malcontents’ camp, looking thoroughly hung over.

Flamingoes as a theme have endured in the shire from that time to the present, including a Flamingo Ball hosted by Duchess Diana in the Pennsic dance tent, and flamingoes appearing on garb (including a codpiece presented as a gift).


[9] Four or five verses were what Alison requested in the commission. We draw to a close with passing references to other “hunts” that are pursued by the denizens of Hartshorn-dale (quotes are from Alison’s notes for the song):

  • “Activities in the Shire currently include weekly rapier which fast becoming a social gathering for those who do not fence.”
  • “Cooking with a very open open group of participants researching period recipes and putting on very targeted events under the title of ‘Dining with…'”
  • “Greenlane Demo. Long running large camping event and demo situated next to a lake with a floating Nessie that we would have fun firing potatoes from the trebuchet at.”

[10] Peregrine suggested that we change perspective in the final chorus, and come home from the hunt, to deliver our quarry for the feast. It made sense, though it meant changing several lines and finding different rhymes. Changing “go” to “come” means dropping the “Tally-ho!”, which no longer rhymer, and doesn’t make sense once the hunt is over. And if we’re no longer “on the trail” and the hounds are no longer in pursuit, we need different rhymes for the lines leading to “Hartshorn-dale”. Fortunately, there were unused rhymes left over from my abandoned first version of the song, such as “strong and hale”, and what could be better at the conclusion of an adventure than to “share our tale”?


[11] At the end of a song (and very commonly in the SCA), it’s customary to add a final repeat (or variant) of the chorus to signal to the audience, and anyone singing along, that this is the finish. I sometimes call it “putting a button on it”. Having done a variation about returning home, we head right back out again to the hunt, ending with the standard chorus…because the hunt never really ends, does it?


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