I love this song. I don’t understand a word of it, but it completely speaks to me. A big part of why I don’t record is that I’m a big believer in the whole “wall of sound” concept, and well, when I’m on my own, my wall of sound is more like a chain-link fence.
This is what it means to be a bard. Giving people the feelings that I get listening to this, that’s what I want to do. I’ve been told I’ve achieved it a few times, but it is the goal, every performance.
Originally published February 24, 2020 (but it’s much older than that).
I was given occasion to roll back through my old LiveJournal today, and I found this, written nearly ten years ago, which I’m sure will feel like a comfortable old shirt for a lot of friends.
I created you
birthed you from my mind
yet you are unfinished
a golem of electrons
I push and I shove
you are obstinate and will not be moved
flickering on the screen
WRITE, DAMN YOU.
Originally published on December 19, 2017.
So let’s start with: you’re allowed to like or not like any movie you want. Please don’t diss other people for thinking different from you. It’s not THAT big a deal.
Having said that, here’s what I think: Star Wars is, at its roots, the Hero’s Journey, which is frequently a tragedy and frequently about redemption. Episodes 1-6 are the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. Episodes 4-8 are the rise, fall (mostly offscreen) and redemption of Luke Skywalker. The whole 9 (and counting) episode saga is about the fall and redemption of the Jedi as a religion and a force for balance in the galaxy.
So yes. The Force is going to make things happen. And yes, ALL of Anakin Skywalker’s children are going to be strong with the Force. And yes, random people are going to be Force Sensitive.
This movie is about the difference between the legends and reality of heroes. It changes everything and nothing all, at the same time.
So in the MidRealm, we have a thing called the Kingdom Arts and Sciences competition. In order to qualify for that competition, you have to score a 1st or 2nd place at one of the six regional competitions that happen around the kingdom in the three or four months prior to Memorial Day, when Kingdom A&S and Crown Tournament are held.
This past weekend, I went to the Constellation Regional A&S, which was also the same day that a friend of mine was getting laureled (in period music!) and also, the last Founding Baron and Baroness of the old Baronies was stepping down — Moonwulf and Takaya were handing over the Barony of Rivenstar to a new couple.
This post, though, will be about the A&SA process, and how it went, and my score and comments from the judges.
The entry was performed by myself and my Laurel, Mistress Amelie: “In Darkness” by John Dowland — I sang, and she played the Viola De Gamba. Since the piece is originally scored for Gamba AND Lute, Amelie re-arranged the piece so that the instrumental wouldn’t feel so empty. “In Darkness” is a unique piece, different from everything Dowland wrote prior, and the two parts are far more a duet than a song with accompaniment.
The purpose of this post isn’t to really go over the scores. I’ve found that it’s entirely possible for one judge to think that the material is extremely complex, while another thinks it’s not complex at all. No, the really helpful bits are the comments.
So there are six judging categories: Documentation, Methods and Materials, Scope, Skill, Creativity, and Judge’s Observation. The categories are discussed in the criteria linked above, so I’ll just go through each judge’s comments for each category.
- Judge 1 said “Documentation is good. I would have enjoyed a little bit of a pronunciation guide.” That’s legit — I didn’t think about explaining how Elizabethans would have pronounced the words, and to be truthful, we only really got the song locked in a few days before competition. I will definitely see about getting a pronunciation guide in the documentation for Kingdom.
- Judge 2 said “Nice coverage of the artist. Would love to see some mention of the type of artists who would have performed it in period. You’re dancing just west of the 1600 line — not an issue for me, but it would help to strengthen your argument that Dowland could have had an earlier version of this song pre-1600.” I’m… not sure how I feel about this one. I’ll have to think about it. Something published ten years after the end of period to me, is so close, that I’m not sure I care enough about the 1/2 point loss.
- Judge 3 said: “Well done. I enjoyed reading the poem and would like to hear you bring out the second voice.” I am not sure what that means, and I’ll reach out to the judge in question.
- Methods and Materials:
- Judge 1 said “Good presentation. Use of harmonies are not inconsistent with the lyric(s). The Dowland piece is well grounded in technical skill.”
- Judge 2 said “Appropriate costume, vocal style. Maybe go for a more period-looking binder @ Kingdom.” This is totally something I’m pursuing; I competed at Kingdom with a three-ring binder, and I’ll have something bound for Kingdom.
- Judge 3 said “Warm ups are important, your voice is rich and warm.” My big takeaway from the comments here is that every judge seems to have considered Methods and Materials to be different from the next.
- Judge 1 said “The scope of this is very broad — it is both interesting. I would have enjoyed a little more on performance technique and how this piece differed from the ‘standard’.”
- Judge 2 said “The sharps and flats made this piece challenging, but it would have been more challenging on a fast-paced song.” I don’t know I buy that. The pace of the song can make it more or less difficult, but so does the interval from note to note, harmony or dissonance with the other parts/accompaniment, and ability to discern a pattern in advance. This song is very difficult to perform.
- Judge 3 didn’t have any comments about Scope.
- Judge 1 said “Again – consistency of pronunciating – was this a ‘recitation’ with a musical tone or was this entry able to stand as recited work without the music” Which I find interesting for two reasons — 1) No one complained about inconsistent pronunciation during the face to face judging and 2) I -thought- that Amelie and I made it very clear that this particular piece requires both parts to work, that it’s a duet, not a solo with accompaniment. I’ll have to work on making that more clear.
- Judge 2 said “very expressive” which was very nice of them, thank you
- Judge 3 didn’t have any comments about Skill.
- Judge 1 said “The ‘modern arrangement’ does relay the sadness, the inconsistent rhythmic pattern accentuated the loss — the exploration is enjoyable for listeners as well as performers.
- Judge 2 said “Reflection of emotion done well — great expression of the mode & interpretation of how it could have been performed.”
- Judge 3 said “This took a fair amount of courage to do SUCH a different sort of piece! I am still struck by that end note…
- Judge’s Observation:
- Judge 1 said “This is an excellent presentation – please continue to explore late elizabethan vocal music — both irregular rhythms and regular rhythms. I really enjoyed listening to this work — and hope you continue to explore ‘oral’ presentation
- Judge 2 said “Very nice! 2nd run-through was better — work on warming up your upper range and STEPPING on those high notes. Warm up those trills to smooth them out. And relax into it (easier said than done, I know). The judge is talking about my range — this piece is at the very top of my range but also at the very bottom of the viola-de-gamba’s range, so there’s no room to re-key it down. The highest notes are a real stretch for me. More warm-ups are required.
- Judge 3 said “Repeat performance will improve.”
So there you are. My entry and the commentary. I got a first, which isn’t all that important. Action items to take on the comments:
- Pronunciation guide — I’ma look up how these words might have been pronounced in Elizabethan England, and provide a guide for the documentation
- Contemporaries — I’ma look up contemporaries of Dowland and see if any of them published before the 1600 cutoff.
- Warm-ups — I’ma warm up EVEN MORE before performing than I already am now.
- Better presentation — I’ma make a new music holder wossnames at Coronation that will look less jarringly modern.
So I did this poem for my friend. He is Ragnvaldr Jonnson, and He is the current King of the MidRealm, with His Queen, Arabella.
I first met Ragnvaldr during Their first reign, in the spring of 1999. It was at a melee event called Baron Wars, near Toledo, Ohio. He was King, and I was the Premiere of the Company of the Bronze Ring, a new White-Scarf equivalent MidRealm order for Rapier combat. I got to know Him slightly over the next several months, but we parted as friendly acquaintances.
The next time I encountered Ragnvaldr was when He and Arabella chose me to be Their Rapier Champion for Their second reign, in the winter of 2001-2002. I was welcomed into the “family” that any reign has the capacity to be; held equal in position and responsibility as the King’s and Queen’s Champions. I worked my butt off, driving all over the MidRealm (which in those days included the Northshield) providing Them with all the service I could muster. One lasting memory is of Ragnvaldr and I, late at night in the dark basement of His house, making me a pole-arm to use the in the morning at the event Clancy Day. Another memory I have is of one of Arabella’s Queen’s Guard, Oscad, cutting off his luxurious long hair and giving it to Her.
For that reign, I wrote The Tales of Ragnvaldr, an attempt at writing the tale of His victory in the style of the Canterbury Tales. It was a glorious reign.
But for Ragnvaldr & Arabella’s third reign, I wanted to try to do something really special. Ragnvaldr & Arabella are some of the least boastful people I know. They are always happy to praise others, rarely asking or expecting praise for Themselves. But to me, They deserved praise beyond praise. Twice They had reigned, as some of the most beloved Royalty of the MidRealm, and I wanted to do something that was worthy of Them.
So the Lineage of Ragnvaldr really started then. After the tournament was done, I watched the fights over and over again, thinking that I could write something in style of a Boast, of His overwhelming victory on the lists. But that seemed too petty for such an august occasion (although I am going to write a song from the viewpoints of each of them, and the refrain will be “he hit me, and I died”) so I started thinking about how I didn’t really know much about His early time in the SCA, or Arabella’s, for that matter. I knew that Ragnvaldr had been squired to Forgan, but when I looked at the Lineage Document that traces the lineage of each Knight through his or her Knight back to the beginning of the Kingdom, I saw that Forgan had never been a squire.
When I enquired, Ragnvaldr told me that He thought that Forgan had been mostly taught by Sir Garraghan, who had been one of the Northwoods Knights of the time. I reached out to my good friend Kith von Atzinger, who put me in touch with Sir Garraghan, and he and I spent several hours talking about Forgan, Sir Garraghan himself, his Knight, Sir Elestron, and Elestron’s Knight, Duke Dagan. When I realized that I could (with a little fudging) trace Ragnvaldr’s lineage back to Dagan, I knew I had my framework. Besides, never let the truth get int he way of a good story, right?
So I started the process of turning my discussions with Sir Garraghan into poetry. I quickly realized that I needed more information about Forgan, Ragnvaldr and Arabella, and I turned to Her for that. Over the course of about 90 minutes at a lovely event called St. Cecelia in the Tower, we conversed, and I got most of the rest of the information I needed. Finally, about four days before Coronation, I began writing.
The original version of The Lineage of Ragnvaldr is about a page and a half long, and was completed the Thursday before Coronation. It’s all prose, and it’s completely overloaded with kennings, and it had no Norse Voice at all. I needed help, but I wanted to talk to someone who had no knowledge of Ragnvaldr or Arabella at all. I needed a bard of experience, someone who understood the Norse Voice, who I knew would immediately dedicate themselves to helping me. I knew exactly who to turn to. Aneleda Falconbridge, Court Baroness of the Kingdom of the East.
Here’s the first verse from the original:
Mighty are the MidRealm Ring-Breakers
Battle-children, Dragon-friends, Shield-gnawers, Stout linden trees, wide spread
Standing tall in elf-glory, or feather’s fall, Through Thor’s laughter, and Northern kiss.
They know not bed-shame, nor straw death,
but find the Rainbow Bridge by spear-din and sword-sleep.
Aneleda and I had met briefly at Pennsic, but it was when she came to Known World Cooks and Bards that I realized what our friendship could be. And immediately, she did not fail to help me. She helped me take it down a notch so the kennings weren’t so overwhelming. She helped me rephrase things. And I figured out that I was being too verbose, and so embarked on re-writing the entire piece in traditional Skaldic verse. So now the first verse read thusly:
Battle-born / Gold Ring-Breakers
Mighty MidRealm / Dragon-daring
standing tall / Through fierce Thor-strikes
Know not bed-shame / nor straw death,
in sword-sleep / aimed at Asgard.
But that still wasn’t going to work. I love traditional norse verse as much as the next guy — probably more so — but I wanted to inspire the people of the MidRealm, and that meant I needed to be able to lift them up, higher and higher. The piece needed to build and build. To me, that required prose. I lamented to Aneleda, “this isn’t going to work. I don’t know how to mix them.”
And, of course, she came through for me again. She showed me how to combine the verse and prose, which even has legitimate period precedent, into what may be the best thing I have ever done.
As a bard, I am consumed by process. What makes a piece be inspiring? What elevates emotions and how to I ensure that I can do it again and again? Why does a band release one song that becomes a top-ten hit, and then the next song — from the same album, written in the same time period — flop? These are some of the questions that I consider over and over again. I don’t know if I have any answers. I do know that this piece, when performed at Coronation, worked, and worked very well. At least, that’s what I’ve been told, since I have no actual memory of the telling.
The original version of The Lineage of Ragnvaldr can be found here.
The first re-write of the Lineage of Ragnvaldr can be found here.
The final version of the Lineage of Ragnvaldr can be found here.
And as a special treat, I have also created an annotated version of the Lineage of Ragnvaldr, here.
I hope you enjoy them.