April 25, 2010


She's fixed. She's strung. She's...almost staying in tune. And after playing the loaner gothic harp for months, she sounds like a music box!

But she's so much easier to play, she's louder, she's clearer. The gothic harp tended to be muddy much lower than Gertrude's range. Her extremely loose strings made it impossible not to buzz on some sections (though the string spacing is the same as on Gertrude), and she was fiendishly difficult to tune precisely. I was afraid I'd miss the lower notes when I switched back to Gertrude, but my songs were composed on Gertrude, and they still sound a lot better on her (some, like "Beer is for Girls," just didn't work on the gothic harp at all).

Here are some quick and dirty clips of the same bit of music ("Rose Round") played on the same set of strings on each harp, so you can hear the profound difference (and isn't she pretty down there?).

Oh, it's good to have my harp back!  That said, Aeron's working on a gothic harp of his own, and I can't wait to see how she turns out!  If her sound is as warm and complex as this gothic harp's sweet spot, without the structural problems that make her difficult to tune and play, that will indeed be a yummy harp!  But I and my songs are very happy to have Gertrude back.

April 22, 2010


Hello, everyone!  This is just a quick note to say that I've discovered the most disconcerting thing in the entire world!  When you're stringing a harp for the first time, and bringing her slowly and painstakingly up to tune, to hear her groan...and then POP....and visibly twitch as the neck and pillar settle into their joints under the new tension.  It's like......guh.  It's like when your knee pops unexpectedly in a really unnerving way when you kneel down, only it's a harp.  A harp that you've heard explode before.


April 17, 2010

Early Music Cage Fight: Sephardic v Celtic! FIGHT!!!

A friend of mine here in Northshield, Mistress Eliane Halevy, wrote an absolutely gorgeous song based on a Sephardic tune.  It's called "Three Words" (link leads to a YouTube link of her performing it).  Normally, she gets a drummer in the audience (or the entire audience) to accompany her with a simple beat, and sings it otherwise unaccompanied.  In my arrangement, I'm drumming on the sound box of my harp with my right hand and playing the strings with my left hand.  It's taking some getting used to (not a drummer!), but I looooooove iiiiiiiit!  Specifically, I'm completely carried away with texture and gorgeous, unusual scale the melody's written in (and, of course, being carried away by Eliane's words was what got me started on this project in the first place).

SO!  I was having a great time drumming along with myself.  "Hm," I thought.  "Drums are cool.  We have a bodhran here.  Hm."  Although bodhrans are a common sight at SCA events, I've suspected for a while that they might be just another "neo-Celtic" thing that people figure must be ancient for no better reason than "it's Irish, isn't it?  And the druids were ancient, so there ya go!"  Couldn't find much that traced it back any further than its being popularized in the '60s.  Yeah.

Then I found this really cool article on the etymology of the word "bodhran" that's made me think, "Alright, we'll never know details for sure, but there was definitely some bodhran-drum-thing in period, and....HOLY CRAP THE HISTORY OF CELTIC MUSIC IS TOTALLY COOL!!!"

So.  Who will be the next to wrest Isolde's attentions away from the troubadours?  The ancient Sephardic Jews or the ancient Celtic probably-not-druids?  FIGHT!!!

April 14, 2010

A Tomboy's Lament

Though I'd to manly skills convert,
I cannot fight, for I can't sew.
I've dresses, but no linen shirt,
Though I'd to manly skills convert.
I fear more than my pride might hurt
To fight with cotton skirt below.
Though I'd to manly skills convert,
I cannot fight, for I can't sew.

Notes:  A triolet lamenting one of life's bitter ironies.  I thought I'd already posted this, but apparently not.  :-)

April 13, 2010

War: what is it good for?

Payin' the bills and not much else, if the Landsknechte are to be believed.

Wolfgang Roth's album "Early German Ballads," available through the Smithsonian Folkways label, includes several Landsknecht songs, in addition to other songs from the German Peasants' Revolt of 1524-1526.  They're not what you'd expect from a stone-cold mercenary singing about war - no guts and glory here, no reveling in violence, but a sense of profound weariness.  Here's an example from the CD:  "Lied Alter Landsknechte."

 Wir alten Soeldner von der hohen Wart'
Wir hab'n all ein eisgrauen Bart
Wir alten Soeldner sind mied und matt
Und haben schon lang' das Kriegsspiele satt.
     Ein eisgrauer Bart
     Ein Panzer von Erz
     Doch tief in der Brust
     Ein blutendes Herz.
     Jung Volk nemm acht
     Dass man Euch nit zu Landsknecte macht.
Uns alte Soeldner von der hohen Wart
Uns blieb im Leben kein Sturmwind spart
Uns alten Soeldner war nit Guts beschert
Als zu kaempfen und streitten mit nem blanken Schwart.
     Ein eisgrauer Bart...

The liner notes, available as a free download, contain the full translation.  But just to give you an idea, here's the chorus:
An iron-gray beard,
Armor of metal,
But deep in the breast
A bleeding heart.
Young folks, take heed
That they don't make a Landsknecht out of you.

I like this because it's a very honest, realistic look at war, and one we tend not to emulate in the SCA.  We in the society like to glorify our sport, and we should - it's fun, and there's clearly precedent.  There are lots of songs from period that talk about the glory of battle, the visceral joy of violence.  It's easy to lose track, though, of the fact that when these people fell in battle, they didn't get back up afterward and go drink with their buddies in the Green Dragon.  Marching off to war means so much more under those circumstances, as some of our members know all too well.

So inspired in part by these war-weary Landsknecht songs and the story of the German Peasants' Revolt, I'm working on a song that deals with a simple peasant's reasons for going to war.  What makes war worth it to an untrained foot soldier, with no delusions of grandeur and only a vague sense of national identity, if any?

It's a motet, unfortunately.  I say unfortunately because I was inspired by an excellent polyphonic-type piece at Bardic Madness, and it stuck in spite of the fact that I don't know any motets from period that deal with these themes.  Also my motet sounds a whole lot more like Les Mis than Machaut, but what are you gonna do?  It's my first crack at polyphony.  I'm learning lots, and my next motet will sound a lot more accurate for having written this one.

April 11, 2010

Resource for Elizabethan Songs, and a fledgling bardic wiki

I just stumbled across this website, and I'm oh so glad I did!  Magic Music is a compendium of 30 Elizabethan songs with words, melodies and documentation.  Each song is documented to a primary source prior to 1600 - so you can sing these in the SCA with abandon and not worry about the authenticity snob lurking around the corner (or in your brain...if you're me).  And, if you resemble me in that respect, you'll have a great time nosing through the hefty bibliography that's included.  Big, big props to Courtney Allen Powers for putting this together!

Right, so I wouldn't have found that site if I hadn't first found this site:  A Circle of Bards.  This site is just getting off the ground, but as you can see, it's already quite useful!  It's meant to be an online compendium of SCA bardic works.  Right, there are already plenty of those, many of which are linked from the site's bardic resources page.  But I think this page has the potential to go beyond what's already out there.  The wiki format will make it possible for the song collection to be more diverse and exhaustive than other individual collections that I know of (and it's searchable!), and the forum and calendar could lead this site to be a bardic hub of sorts.  I really hope it takes off.  Big, big props to Master Niall Dolphin for putting this one together!

April 03, 2010

New Videos!

Mistress Elashava bas Riva has put a couple of new videos up on her YouTube channel, including one of me reciting "Oh how I love the springtime gay..." (this was before I'd learned the melody).  Follow the link to her channel, and you'll also find a performance by another harper, Breddelwyn ap Taliesin, as well as the Jararvellir Music Guild performing Claude Gervais' "Pavane de la Guerre."  And that's just the latest batch!  Good stuff.