Sunday, July 22, 2007

Making Music in the SCA

I imagine that everyone in the shire of False Isle, visitors from afar, and old friends from Lions Gate, have noticed that I like to play music. In fact, it's hard to get me to shut up :).

I never stop trying to get other people playing, too.

Why is that? Why not do as many SCA groups do, and settle for the Bard-in-a-Box? After all, the BiaB never runs out of things to play, everyone's got one, it never (well, almost never) plays a wrong note or gets off the beat, it doesn't have to stop to eat or sleep, its strings don't break, it doesn't need to empty spit on the floor, the volume is adjustable, and it never gets offended if you talk while it's playing.

A fair number of those advantages actually turn out to be downsides, many involving the setting of unrealistic expectations and assumptions.

* everyone's got one
unrealistic expectation: music should be everywhere, at all times, is background, and can be ignored

* never plays a wrong note or gets out of sync
unrealistic expectation: real people have to play like that too. You shouldn't play music UNLESS you can play perfectly. Intimidating? You bet!

* doesn't have to stop to eat or sleep
unrealistic expectation: real bards can go on for ever too.... (sometimes it just seems that way)

* it doesn't need to empty spit on the floor
I can't think of a downside to this one!

* the volume is adjustable
unrealistic expectation: just turn it up louder if you want. Never mind blasting the people next door out of their chairs, and never consider quieting your own noise and moving closer so you can hear.

* never gets offended if you talk while it's playing
this contributes to noisy, discourteous audiences at times when one really should shut up and listen - bardic contests come to mind.

OK, so let's scrap the BiaB idea. What are the advantages of real people playing real music?

It's fun. If you've ever done it, you know that making your own music is very satisfying. Making it with other people is even better. There's an amazing energy that comes into play when a group of people play together and everything gels. That doesn't mean every note is perfect. It never is, and it doesn't need to be. To work, it just needs to be "good enough" - and that's very achievable.

It brings all types of people together. Not all of us have that social gene that allows us to walk into a group event and blend right in, chatting with everyone. Group music-making is one of those activities which allows you to be as social as you like - or don't like. No need to talk if you're playing. There's enough structure there to keep the introverts happy, and enough exhibitionism for the extroverts to enjoy it too. It's an easy way for new people to get to know others in the shire (or worse, Barony), because they see the same small group frequently, instead of a randomly-changing larger group at irregular intervals. And it's also one of the few activities that young people can join in with, and find themselves outclassing the adults. Where would the Broken Consort be without our multi-talented Ambrosine?

It's period. Lords and ladies would have had musicians available for any major event, and often as part of the household to play frequently. Religious events were built around music. Later in the SCA period, any educated person was expected to at least appreciate music, and preferably to play and/or sing themselves. Elizabethans followed the Queen's lead and made lots of music. Many people have commented on how much live music adds to the atmosphere at our feasts and events.

It's cheap. Singing costs nothing to start. You don't have to buy tools or materials, or find workspace. Even instrumental playing can be started with a cheap plastic recorder from the thrift store. You don't have to have period instruments to make music.

It makes the shire look good. How many other branches even ten times our size have the amount of music happening that we do? Eventually I'd like to take the Broken Consort "on the road" to show off, even if only to May Bardic in Lions Gate, but as Master Stephen has suggested, Kingdom Bardic is not at all out of the question.

For me, though, the main reason is very simple. I play because I love to. The fact that others enjoy it too is icing on the cake.

No comments: