September 05, 2011

I may have found a reason to record

A lot of SCA bards cut albums.  A few have asked me if I have one, and the answer has always been "Aw, HEEEEEEEELLZ naw!"  I need this to be my hobby.  And while I may be serious about doing it well and serious about teaching, I need to stay on this side of "serious" in general, right?  I need this not to feel like a job.  And producing a CD, and then trying to promote said CD in order to recoup costs, would start to feel like a job.  And then it would stress me out and make me enjoy it less.  I went through this years ago with acting, I learned my lesson.  I love this a lot, but I don't wanna go pro - not even semi-pro, not even hemi-demi-semi-pro.

But I think I've found a reason to record my songs.  I've reached the point where I have too many songs to keep reliably practiced up.  So I find that I'm spending all of my time practicing the songs I haven't played in a while, rather than writing new work.   I feel like I'd like to record my songs so I can have them somewhere in a practiced, finished state.  I want to be able to take out a CD and say, "that's my song!" or to listen to it to remind myself when it's time to practice it up again.  Mostly - I just want my songs to feel finished.  Then I'll feel freer to move on to other music.

I think if I record my songs to have an album, it'll drive me nuts.  But if I record them for myself, then it'll be alright.  And I'll also have an album.

So Aeron and I are looking into home recording equipment now.  I don't want it to be a big, studio-digitally-post-production-mastered ordeal, right?  But at the same time, the idea is for my songs to feel "finished," and the lap-top mic recordings you've heard on my blog sound anything but finished.  So we'll see.  If anything comes of this, you'll read it here first (assuming I remember to blog before I Facebook).  And it will be a digital download, because dealing with CDs and jewel-cases and album covers and whatnot are what we're trying to avoid here.  :-)

August 29, 2011

I just wanna bang on de drum all day!

Here's a trick I learned:  if you want to learn to do something really well, find something that's even harder and teach yourself to do that instead.  Then when you come back to that first thing, you'll rule at if by magic.

The music I make involves isolating different parts of your body - your hands and fingers are not moving together.  Adding vocals into that can be like asking someone to rub their belly and pat their heads on a pogo stick.  And then there's my new favorite thing - drumming on the soundbox while I'm singing and/or playing with the other hand (probably the least period thing I do, I'll admit, but hell it's fun).  You have to be able to isolate parts of your body in order for them to do their thing independently.

So rather than just practice this over and over again until I got really good at it, I've decided to learn to play the drums!  My husband's a drummer and is teaching me on his drum kit in the basement.  We've started really simple, but it's still a bit of a mind-trip. I'll have my rhythm going, and then my mind will wander for a second and suddenly my foot and right hand have switched places...or have synched up...or my left hand goes "Whut???" and starts flailing randomly.

The really interesting thing is, I have to really clear my mind in order to get into a groove.  Now, I've always found this to be true with harp as well - as soon as I start thinking about how my day was, or this section coming up that I always mess up, or how amazingly I'm rocking this section I always mess up on...I mess up.  My mind has to be blank, filled with nothing but music and sensation in my fingers, in order to do really well.  The same is true with the drums, only it's WAY harder!  You get into a groove, it gets repetitive, your mind starts to wander and BAM - suddenly you're playing unison quarter notes in each limb, which is not what you were going for.  You basically have to meditate in order to play well.  No wonder my husband does it for stress relief (and here I thought bangin' real hard on stuff was enough).

Anyway, it's fun and I think in the long run learning to play the drums will make me a better harper.  I love it when life works like that!

July 04, 2011

ATTENTION: This guy is awesome.

My harp-making husband and I have spent the last day or so drooling over this site:

Paul Butler, aka Master Arden of Icombe, is a laurel in the East Kingdom who's dabbled quite successfully in medieval lutherie.  He's made a number of stringed instruments, chiefly from the medieval period although he's got one super-ancient lyre and one ren/baroque pochette.  He has detailed descriptions and pictures of the process he went through to make the instruments, which is obviously awesome.  Perhaps even more awesome - most of his pages include recordings of the instruments being played, and he's achieved some really nice sounds.  No recording of the Anglo Saxon lyre, though, which makes me sad, but it's pretty enough and in good enough company that I'm still overall quite happy. :-D  (Mostly I just want one.  Hearing one is the next best thing.  Seeing how one was made is a close third).

No harps, but that's ok because he plays them!  Check out the second mp3 - that's his gothic harp with the brays on.  Neat, huh?  Waaaaaaaaaant.

So nooooooooooow I want a rebec and a citole and an Anglo Saxon lyre (ok, I already wanted an Anglo Saxon lyre, but his site didn't exactly dissuade me).  Harps first.  Harps.  Harpsharpsharps.  Actually bookshelves first.  :-P  Then new folk harps, then a gothic harp and that's all if I'm reeeeeeeeally nice to my super-sexy-talented husband.  :-D  LOVE YOU HONEY!!!!  (harps)

June 26, 2011

Stuff Isolde is Not Allowed to Do:

Entry #84757:

There is an A&S competition coming up at Trillies where you earn points for each component of the piece that you made using period techniques.  So like...if I entered a scroll, I'd get extra points for having made the paper, mixed the pigment, cut the quill, etc, etc.

So I am NOT going to enter an original troubadour-style song with original harp accompaniment and documentation that reads, "I should get extra points for the following:
1)  Using period techniques to not write it down.  Troubadours didn't write down shit.
2)  Using period techniques to procure my harp.  Someone else made it, and now it's mine.  This is EXACTLY how the troubadours did it.
3)  I did not slaughter the sheep to harvest the guts for my strings.  Extra points for avoiding animal husbandry like any self-respecting troubadour.
4)  I expect to get laid as a direct result of my awesome song.  Even my motivation is period!"

I'm not going to enter that as documentation.  That would be sarcastic and wrong.  That said, I'm also probably not going to enter the competition.  I mean - I get it, and it's cool.  Encourage people to learn new things, get a better understanding of the items that would influence your art, etc.  I'm just a depth girl, rather than a breadth girl is all.  I'd rather take the time to write a really good song, and then play it on a harp made by someone who took the time to learn what he was doing.

My art doesn't produce physical items, so there aren't many arts that are really adjacent to it.  And those that are - ie, musical-instrument making - deserve the kind of devotion that music has already claimed from me.  That said - I expect to see some really awesome scribal and textile entries, and I'm looking forward to some quality drooling.  :-)

May 29, 2011

Ealdormere Crown Tournament

We moved up to Ealdormere just slightly too late for the reign of Quilliam and Dagmar - a bit disappointing, as I'd heard nothing but excellent things about them as people and as monarchs.  So I was pretty excited yesterday to watch 20-year-old Quilliam win his second crown.

Coming from an all-rapier background, I don't know nearly enough about heavy fighting for the blow-calling to make any sense.  But I can tell this - when everyone a person kills looks really happy about it coming off the field, that person is doing something very right.  Best I can tell, Quilliam fought with deadly honor, and I've not heard a soul breathe otherwise.

The rest of the day was filled to the brim with music, and I want to share this song by Lady Marie l'Englois.  She wrote it for Quilliam's first coronation, and reprised it most aptly at feast last night.


Northern Heir
... being a bardic retelling of the happenings at Ealdormere's XXIVth crown tourney, to the popular Elizabethan tune of Lord Willoughby's March

The last day of October in AS44
King Nigel sought a royal heir to lead his land to war.
The strongest northern fighters all gathered in the cold
To learn who would inherit the lupine crown of gold.

Syr Mordain and Syr Edouard both fought a valiant fight,
But in the end they fell before a stalwart squire and knight.
Syr Wat addressed the people in windblown Ard Chreag,
Then Quilliam showed his mettle with a heart-felt dialog.

He spoke of inspiration, and of a childhood dream,
He spoke about the baroness whom he would make his queen.
He spoke of his opponent, his honoured consort's knight,
And thanked him for the training that brought him to the fight.

When Quilliam finished speaking, Wat gave a bow profound.
The two embraced as brothers upon the tourney ground,
Then knight and hardy squire each other did assail
Until, for love of kingdom, young Quilliam did prevail.

My noble lords and ladies raise cups and voices high
For Adrielle and Nigel, and their heirs we name hereby,
For one spring day in Greyfells, bards of the trillium
Shall sing of the ascension of Dagmar and Quilliam.
         -Marie l'Englois, December ASXLIV

You can see a recording of Quilliam's speech and the ensuing bout here.  I love this song because it's got everything anyone could want in an SCA bardic piece - it's a stirring account of people we know doing great things and it's totally authentic.  Lady Marie wrote this to the tune of "Lord Willoughby's March," a song from period that recounts a person's accomplishments in battle.  Not only is the tune period, but the practice of melody-borrowing itself was common throughout period - in fact you can find a period filk of this very tune here (PDF).  It's even persona-appropriate - though Prince Quilliam is a Viking, Lady Marie is a 16th century English woman living in France.

Information on period printings of "Lord Willoughby" can be found here.  Lady Marie has a recording and the score available for download here.

And Waes Hael to Prince Qulliam and Princess Dagmar - may their reigns be fruitful and frequent!

May 09, 2011


There are leaves on the trees and flowers blooming and grass on the ground and NO!  SNOW!  And there's an event coming up with the word "dandelion" in its name, and that means it's time for REJOICING IN THE STREETS!!!!!

Also songs about Spring.  So at Dandelion Festival, I'm challenging people to bring bardic pieces that celebrate the Springtime.  Find the girl in the green dress with the harp during the day, perform a piece, fill the day with song (or stories, they're fine too) and receive a bright, shiny as-yet-to-be-determined token.  Yee-uh.

So here, to get your bardic juices flowing, are some ideas:

Oh how I love the springtime gay...
A troubadour song about bashin' the springtime.
Read more here.

Kalenda Maya:
A troubadour song about a jilted the springtime.
Lyrics and translation here.
Listen on youtube here.

A l'entrada de temps clar
A troubadour song about a springtime the springtime.
Lyrics and translation here.
Listen on youtbube here.

Greek Mythology
The myth of Persephone and Hades was a popular basis for stories and poems in period.
Read more about it here.

Norse Mythology
They had Norse people in period!  And they had....
Myths about the Springtime.

Sonnet 98
Willie Shakespeare wrote about everything.  Including the springtime.

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April dress'd in all his trim
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laugh'd and leap'd with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue
Could make me any summer's story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew;
Nor did I wonder at the lily's white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
   Yet seem'd it winter still, and, you away,
   As with your shadow I with these did play.

April 11, 2011

Frog Galliard

I've mentioned before that I'm arranging the Folger Dowland MS for small harp.  Well, here's a taste of what's in the manuscript!  I entered this in an A&S competition  this past weekend (and took home a sumptuous prize that included a LUSCIOUS beaver pelt....must think of something likewise luscious to do with it).  So here, for your geeking pleasure, is Frog Galliard.

The documentation, with the sheet music for harp.

A rough (really) recording of the piece, to give you an idea of what it sounds like.

This is the first of about 50 pieces yet to come.  I have a few more done than this, but this is the only one I have documented and recorded - and many of them (including the duets) are much easier than this.  Some are also way harder, but hey - that's fun too.

That's really one of the reasons I'm so excited about this project.  Not only does it flesh out our sadly spare collection of early harp music, but it really ups the ante for small harp technique-wise.  A perception exists that folk harps just aren't up to serious, technically challenging music.  That's largely because there's not a whole lot of technically challenging music out there for small harp.  This manuscript offers both - really fun, difficult stuff, with easier, more manageable stuff as well.  Gives you something to work through.  I can't wait until I have more of these done!

March 09, 2011

The Wife of Bath on Joan of Arc....or "Why Virgins be Crazy"

So remember the Duke Gyrth Memorial Smackdown I was talking about?  And how I was pretending to be the Wife of Bath and writing poetry about people I was assigned to like/not like?  Guess how the Wife of Bath feels about Joan of Arc!  :-D

Good gentles, you may know this girl, perchance –
the Maid of Orleans – the Dupe of France.
A pretty child she was, though peasant-bred.
Her father’s land and office kept them fed
and well-content with simple country life.
She would have made a happy, gainful wife.
But no one wants to wed a lunatic!
She couldn’t catch the poorest country hick
with voices in her head.  We all can tell –
though they be angels, life with you’d be hell!
Poor Joan could see she never would make good,
and found a man the only way she could.
Now knowing that the French brigade enjoys
the company of rosy little boys,
our desperate Joan donned pants and bound her breast
and prayed that they would overlook the rest.
But generals and dukes could see that France
was sore in need of more than dalliance.
“Lo there, that crazy wench – she freaks me out!
Her raving could put all our foes to rout!”
They laughed – and then their laughter turned to tears.
That was the best idea they’d had in years.
Our frenzied Joan was now on a crusade,
“The angels tell me I must die a maid!
And in the service of my sovereign land
I’ll bow to God, but not to husband’s hand.”
But gullible and witless, Joan would dance,
a puppet jerked around by Charles of France.
And so a Spartan soldier’s life she led,
no lover ever warming her in bed.
How independent was she? Oh, I hope
you know that Charles kept her on a short rope.
She did his bidding like the meekest wife
and never guessed he’d play her like a fife.
She cut a hundred English fighters down
ensuring that her king would have his crown.
But sure the English caught her by and by
and Charles the Bastard hung her out to dry.
Poor Joan, we know your trial was a sham,
that you were France’s sacrificial lamb.
He could have ransomed you, but did you think
that lacking ties of marriage Charles would blink
at what befell you once he had his prize?
Mayhap the voices were more loud than wise.
Now if but one thing from my tale you learn,
‘tis better, girls, to marry than to burn.

March 08, 2011

The Wife of Bath in praise of Sugawara no Michizane

Several weeks ago in Atlantia, I participated in the Duke Gyrth Memorial Smackdown, which was freakin' awesome.  Now I feel like posting, but am tired as crap.  So I'll just put up the two poems I wrote for this...starting with this one.

The premise was:  I was the Wife of Bath (wealthy, randy, 5-times-wed widow of Chaucerian fame).  I was assigned two other participants historico-literary figures.  I had to chose one to praise and one to smack brutally to the proverbial curb.  So in my best attempt at Chaucerian verse, and from the assigned perspective, I threw together this little ditty.  (Note:  If any of the other authors post their stuff anywhere, I'll link to it - it was a great day for poetry!  And if anyone got video of Master Dunstan being Hildegard von Bingen, YOUTUBE THAT SUMMBITCH!)

Sugawara no Michizane-san,
I think I've never seen a better man!
Though I have seen and loved and married five
good English lords, e'en were they still alive,
your smooth nobility, your learned pen
would put to shame a hundred English men.
You've such a way with tongues - good gracious me! -
a brilliant mind like yours can surely see
how easy it will be to make me come
to understand my heart 'till now was numb.
Sugawara no Michizane-chan,
I'm widowed now.  I do not think I can
go on alone without your honeyed verse,
both elegant and brief - it could be worse!
I love your courtly robes, your wispy beard,
and 'till you came along, I really feared
some yapping bore would whisk me off to wed,
who'd make more noise at dinner than in bed.
But you, my lord, can paint exotic lands
in sounds swift as the brush moves in your hands.
And I'll throw songs at you like lovesick birds
'till I posses you body, soul and words.

March 06, 2011

Proceedings from Practicum

Last weekend up here in Ealdormere, a staggering number of SCA teachers converged on the Canton of Caldrithig for Practicum - a day full of classes on everything from shaving to sewing to ass-kicking.

Here, for the first time in a really really long time, is the collected wisdom of that day in handy PDF format - the Proceedings from Practicum 2011.

Though by no means exhaustive, this 98-page document contains class notes, handouts and abstracts from classes taught at Practicum.  If you see something you'd like to know more about, please reach out to the person who taught the class - you'll find contact information for nearly everyone who contributed.

February 26, 2011

How to be a Troubadour

Today at Caldrithig's Practicum, I'm teaching a new class about songwriting in the style of the troubadours.  In addition to basic cultural background, my course covers some musical and poetic features that make troubadour songs distinct, so that modern songwriters can more easily create original work in this classic medieval style.  If you'd like a copy of the handout, download this here PDF.

It seems to me that many bards in the SCA shy away from writing period-style songs because of a persistent belief that medieval music sounds "weird" and "inaccessible to a modern audience."  It is my firm belief that if people had a little more grounding in early music, they'd realize just how beautiful and universal it can be and would be quite a bit less intimidated by it.  People write what they hear, and if our most prominent bards are writing music that sounds nothing like medieval music, new bards will follow suit.  But when we take the plunge into more authentic sounding music, we make it easier for others to do so as well.  I hope this class will help to demystify troubadour music for those willing to try.

February 22, 2011

Movin' Out! Also, a troubadour song revisited.

Oh God, it begins - the mad, downhill dash to moving away again.  I've got movers coming on Thurs, I leave Atlantia for Ealdormere (again) on Fri and then on Sat I'm teaching two classes - one of which I need to, like, finish writing.  And print out handouts.  Fnerh.

BUT IN THE MEANTIME!!!  I attended my last event in Atlantia for a while on Sat, and I'm glad I was able to before the stress hit.  Performer's Revel, hosted by Their Excellencies Fevronia Murometsa (a kindred harper) and Igor Medvedev (a kindred foodie).  Fantastic time - lots of music and stuffing my face.  And counting Gertrude there were SEVEN HARPS of assorted sizes and makes.  That was pretty sweet.

At the request of Mistress Linette...and some other people too, I think...I am posting here the melody to "Oh how I love the springtime gay."  My translation, the documentation, etc are posted here, but I put all of that stuff up before I worked up Bertan de Born's melody.  So here it is!  (PDF format - if you don't read music, drop me a line, I can midify it for you).  Follow the first link for the rest of the verses.  Someday, I will post all of that on one page so it'll make sense.  Not today.

Enjoy, you bloodthirsty maniacs, you!  ;-)

February 10, 2011

Beer is for Girls is for Baroness Lucia!

At the request of my dread and illustrious baroness, who's had this song stuck in her head all day and needs help with that, here's a quick-and-dirty recording of "Beer is for Girls."  Enjoy!

And for those of you who like geeking out over documentation, here's a link to the nerdy bits!

February 07, 2011

This weekend is a blur...

But I feel compelled to post because it was hella fun.

Woke up in the wee hours to go to Atlantia's Kingdom Arts and Sciences Fair.  Saw a lot of really great displays (yarn....oh, there was pretty yarn).  Met a lot of really great people.  Heard a lot of really great poetry at the Duke Gyrth Memorial Smackdown - and also saw a lot of really great persona play!

Then the next day I woke up even earlier for a 9-hour shift at work.  My brain is on strike today.  Hence this weekend being a bit of a blur.  I might post more when I come to - poems and impressions, etc.  Suffice it to say, I enjoyed myself very much!  The people and the displays were excellent!  :-)

*passes out - wait no....goes to work*

February 01, 2011

Crap I need to do:

Congratulations, blog!  You're my online SCA to-do list!  Woo!

By 2/5:
1)  Write poems about Sugarawa no Michizane and Joan of Arc for the Duke Gyrth Memorial Smackdown at KASF this weekend.
2)  Mebbe write documentation for them.  Mebbe.
3)  Write a 'lil extra documentation for KASF display.
4)  Go to FedEx, print out stuff for display, put in pretty binder.
5)  Buy picture frames, make display pretty.
6)  Go to event, smack some bards down.

AND THEN (ie by 2/26):
7)  Finish my new class for Practicum in a nice, leisurely manner.  (Troubadours!  Word!)
8)  Hound teachers who have not yet submitted materials for the Proceedings.
9)  And again.
10)  And again.
11)  Teach.
12)  Maybe more hounding.
13)  Publish Proceedings.

It'll all totally happen.  *nods*

January 14, 2011

Why I'll play harp music from period if I damned well want to.

When last we met, I lamented the extreme paucity of harp music that survives in written form from period.  There's the Mudarra piece I mentioned for double-harp and, for the wire-strung harpists in the audience (ie - not me), there's the Robert ap Huw MS (recorded after 1600, though not by too terribly much, and certainly including much older songs).

BUT THAT WON'T STOP ME!!!  I have found, in my couple of years as a harping bard, that what I love the most is the sort of musical anthropology that goes along with early music.  Troubadour or early German music is more fun for me than later period stuff because we don't entirely know what it sounded like.  We have to use what little we do know in creative ways, like using the tuning of a lyre to tell us what a German harp c. 800 might have played or lists of who paid what to whom in X's court to figure out what instrumental accompaniment troubadours used.

And in the same vein, I get a kick out of recreating what we lack when it comes to period harp music.  Finding parallels between early harp and lute music and then creating new harp pieces based on that is even more fun than learning a pre-existing piece.  Just because we don't have the music doesn't mean we can't play something awfully close to what period harpers would have played.

And I find that to be terribly exciting.  ^_^

January 05, 2011

Why I can't play harp music from period.

Single-row harp c.1520
We all know what a harp looks like here.  It involves a single row of strings.  Modern concert harps have pedals that change the length of the strings, producing sharps and flats.  Modern folk harps have levers that do the same thing but require a hand to leave the strings to engage.  Harps in period had none of these - you played how your harp was tuned, or if you were really good you could fret a string to produce a sharp (this is impossible on modern folk harps given the string tension).

Lookit!  Two rows of strings!
Toward the end of period you also find harps with 2 or 3 rows of strings.  These harps had the same range as their single-row counterparts, but double or triple the strings meant strings for sharps and flats!  I have absolutely no interest in playing a double or triple harp.  The technique is wonky, the repretoire is overwhelmingly baroque (post-period and not really what I'm most into anyway) and my harp-making husband isn't a fan of their tone (I haven't really played around on one enough to hear for myself, but I tend to trust his judgment in these matters).

Now.  I've told you before that I'm arranging some lute music (Dowland right now) for harp to fill the gaping void that is period harp music.  There is exactly ONE piece designated for harp that survives from before 1600.  One.  And I have it on my computer.

This is the piece.  I promise this is music.

AND IT'S FOR EFFING DOUBLE HARP!!!!!  EFFFFFFFFFFFF!!!!!  I SO want to learn this piece.  It's our ONLY genuine piece of period harp music, and there are no transcriptions or recordings of it out there.  But I am NOT going to acquire and learn to play a double harp just so I can play ONE freaking piece!  I'm not!

Eff.  Effity eff-eff-eff!  I will transcribe it, though.  I'll transcribe it and see if it'll work on a pedal harp.  And if it will, I'll try to get a decent recording using one of my parents' pedal harps.  It won't be period, but at least it'll be OUT there!

And I'll keep going on Dowland and other lute music.  That's going really well, actually.  I'll post some of those pieces soon.

Raggin-fraggin double harp...