Bardic-Guide-art - 3/2/99
"An Unofficial Newcomers Guide to Bardic Circles and Competitions"
by Pamela Hewitt, the Harper
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
An Unofficial Newcomers Guide to Bardic Circles and Competitions
by Pamela Hewitt, the Harper
Informal Bardic: An informal bardic circle is pretty much any camp
fire or place where people take turns entertaining each other telling
stories, reciting poems, sing songs, dancing or making music. The
material presented might to be from 600 to 1600 AD or "Period," but
more often than not it isn't. The only winning at an informal Bardic
is the reasonable amount of applause you get for being willing to stand
up and risk making a fool of yourself in front of others. If you want
to win at a Formal Bardic Circle, this is the place to start out. You
will quickly discover what works and what doesn't.
Often, someone is in charge of the "Bardic Circle." It is their
job to keep the circle going by encouraging others to perform often by
performing themselves. They may ask people they know to perform and
you should let them know that you have something you would like to do so
they can fit you in. When there are many eager performers, the order
of performance is often governed by who can get to their feet the
fastest while bellowing out an introduction to their performance as they
make their way to the center of the circle.
Be prepared for occasional audience harassment. This sort of thing
occurs even in competition. Sometimes, they just want to add to the fun
and at others they just want to give you a hard time to see what you
are like, so be ready with a come back. Take it as a compliment, they
You may have to pause for laughter, if your piece is comic. Between
interruptions and laughter you may suffer memory loss, but everyone does
from time to time from the greatest to the newest of us. Stage fright
does that to everyone, most bardic circles are very sympathetic to this
problem. Also, be aware that many of the established performers have
worked very hard to get to where they are. The creators of Cirque De
Soleil remember: "...what it was like to be young and blocked by
turf-protecting middle-agers." This is why it is important to value
your own opinion and the applause of your audience. Training in
performance is readily available from outside the SCA. Story telling
organizations might be a good place to start.
Formal Bardic: Formal competitions are usually for a title of some
sort. At a formal bardic circle contestants may be asked to perform a
story, a song and a poem. When a contestant performs he usually may
choose what he wants to do first, either the story, poem, or song. The
topic for the competition may have been printed in the event
announcement in the Black Star. Probably no one will complain if your
material is not on the topic but the winner usually had material on the
topic. Topics are things like: War, Chivalry ( honor, duty, courtesy),
Love, Cattle Raids, Viking voyages, etc. Mentally classify material
according to such categories. These may be presented as a story, poem or
song. You may be asked to perform all three forms in a competition. If
you can't sing, say so. Live performance of music, the performance of a
scene from a play and dances are also accepted in competition. The order
of performance is often determined by the order of sign up. Most people
don't want to go first. Some of the better know Bards take the liberty
of arriving late. If there are a large number of contestants the
competition can go on for three hours or more. The competition may be
cut short. The decision of the judges is final. For some competitions
bardic, you will be asked to compose a story, song or poem on a topic
give at the event to be composed "on site." Usually, you will be given
most of the day to do this. It is probably easier to do than you think,
and if you don't come up with anything, it really doesn't matter.
A) Elected Bards: Many shires hold elections or competitions to
chose their bard. A bard is defined as a person who memorizes and
recounts a people's history in verse, song and story. The bard may be
asked to return the next year to present a new piece about the shire or
Kingdom's history. The judges may or may not be introduce and may
mingle with the crowd. As the competitors are signing up, anyone who
chooses may pick up a voting token. Many times large numbers of the
audience leave their tokes with a member of the audience to vote for
them. Voting tokens are given to the competitor at the end of the
competition. The tokens are counted and recorded by the contestants
name. The winner is usually announced at the next mornings court.
Remember, no matter how fine a performance you give that if you are
unknown to a shire that you are not likely to be elected as their bard.
B) Judged Bards: The judges at bardic are not always introduced and
often not identified as they mingle with the crowd. Sometimes, the
competitions are run like double elimination tournaments. Consult your
local list mistress for an explanation and a diagram. Again remember, no
matter how excellent your performance, you probably will not win your
first competition. It is important to perform as often as you can.
At judged competitions the single most important thing to remember is
that the function of a Bard is to record and celebrate the history of
Ansteorra. While most titles are for local groups, an Eisteddfod is held
for the Premier Bard of Ansteorra. Eisteddfod is a Welsh word. It
means "a sitting" or a "session," and has been traditionally applied for
a meeting of Bards and musicians. The first Eisteddfod of which their
is any record occurred in the 6th Century. It is believed that a winner
of the Eisteddfod may have had a special chair reserved for him at
court. There were usually were two contests: one for poets and one for
musicians. This ancient competition was revived in modern times in Wales
and is held entirely in Welsh. It purpose is to preserve the Welsh
language. In Ansteorra, the winner of Eisteddfod is usually a poet,
story teller, entertainer, historian and often a musician as well. The
winner is usually a person who has been in the SCA for some time, who is
well known to the society and who has won titles at various events.
The Premier Bard is expected to act as a judge at competitions around
the state and organize the next Eisteddfod.
C) Winning at Bardic: Remember there are a lot of talented people
out there and you are one of them. Your may not be acknowledge by
anyone but your applauding audience. Remember that the more often you
perform and the more people that get to know you and your talents the
more likely you are to win. Winning a title is not based on a single
performance. Go and enjoy performing and hope to win.
Becoming A Bard:
It is the duty of a bard to entertain. Be colorful, even gaudy, but
authentic in your costume. Be bold in your presentation of yourself. Be
a shameless self promoter and tell the world of yourself and your years
of service to Ansteorra. Make statements like: "I have come far to
The single most important advice I can give to bards is to keep it
brief (under 5 minutes). People who perform longer can kill a bardic
circle. I have seen people and other bards disappear from a campfire
when a performance goes on for too long. A true bard performs for
everyone, not just the judges at a competition. If your ambition is to
be come a bard, you should approach every camp fire you can find,
introduce yourself and offer to entertain. In the Celtic tradition, you
should always ask your host for a story. (Here is where you will get
some Anteorran history.) Camp fires are often sponsored by households so
the request for a story might be about how that household was founded,
about one of the founding members of that household, or even
specifically, for something pertaining to Ansteorran history.
When you approach an encampment, be sure to wait for an opening when
the conversation lags and ask permission to approach the group and or
the camp fire. Again be aware that people may have traveled many miles
to be with each other and may not be willing to have an outsider
interrupt. Be aware that their lack of hospitality reflects badly on
them and not on you and your talents. After your host or some member of
the group has told you a story, make your opening by thanking the person
and saying that reminds you of another story or do your best bardic bit
for them. If there is a possibility they have heard your piece before
give the title and ask if there is anyone who has not heard the piece.
Be prepared to do a different piece.
Remember always, that in order to be come a true bard, you need to
know Ansteorran History. But where do you find that besides stories
picked up from hospitable hosts? As far as I know, there is no
official history of Ansteorra. There is only a list of Kings and Queens
which was distributed at the fifteenth anniversary of Ansteorra. It is
titled: Antsteorra: Commemorating Fifteen Years of the Dream. This
contains a listing of the Royal Courts of Ansteorra. It lists the
reigning King and his Queen, the date of the crown tournament,
coronation date, the Queen's champion and the Kingdom Warlord. This
may still be available from the Kingdom Chronicler or the Kingdom
Historian. Oddly, even this listing is seen as controversial. When
dealing with history there is always a disagreement about what really
happened. The fact is most of the History of Ansteorra remains
unwritten because of this acquiring a knowledge of the past history of
Ansteorra is a challenge. Sometimes, Kingdom Colleges present segments
on Ansteorran history, but remember your presenter like the Chronicler's
of old can only present what they think happened. Another person at the
event may have a completely different idea of what occurred. Try
talking to the old timers, Dukes and Duchess may be generous enough to
tell you stories about their reigns. Be considerate about the time and
place you ask. They may have other duties or people they have traveled a
long way to see. They may be tired of telling people their story. So
attend and listen to every bardic presentation you can with your note
pad in hand.
BUT, You don't have to do your barding strictly about the past. You
may observe acts of valor, heroinism and chivalry at your local
tournament and record and report them yourself. You may choose to
recount your own story such as the true story of "The Fool Who Was
Struck By Lightning." You may have a story about your device or
Preparing Material For Bardic:
Song and Poems: When performing it is best to memorize your material.
This not only gives your performance a "period" feeling, but it will
keep you from breaking down from stage freight. Poems and songs are
usually easier to memorize because they are rhymed. If you can sing a
song or recite a poem while patting your tummy and rubbing your head you
are ready to perform them. That way if you get stage fright, your mouth
will go on auto-pilot and get your through. If you have been asked to
write an original piece on site, it is acceptable to read it. Keep a
lantern or a small flash light handy. A camp fire gives unreliable
When memorizing a poem, learn a couplet or two lines that rhyme at a
time and keep adding. You may have to pause to think and to peek at
your text, but keep repeating from the first line until you can add the
next line. Some people have photographic memories, but most of us are
not that lucky.
Stories: Don't try to memorized more than an outline of the story.
Have an index card with the outline in your pocket as a security
blanket. Using an outline will allow you a greater chance for
creativity and spontaneous addition of details as they come to mind.
Depending on your mood or your audience, your story will change and
evolve over time as you find what pleases a crowd and what does not.
You will think of new and clever things to say and your audience may
even help you. Think things through as you are going over your
outline. You may have a picture of events in your mind, just describe
what you see and hear. One tip for composing on site, is if you are
stumped for material adapt a story or part of a story you already know.
String together three short stories to create a long one by sending the
hero on a trip or sea voyage. Use repeated phrases such as. "An he went
to the 36th kingdom in the 36th land" These are the bardic equivalents
of "Uh, and then, Uh, he, Uh." They give you time to think of the next
Period Material: Having documentation for your period material is a
plus for you. It assures the judges that this is the real thing. This
short research paper may include xerox copies of material. Usually,
three resources should be present.
Serious Filk Songs: Taking a tune and setting your own words to the
music is an ancient bardic tradition. Tunes for laments and love songs
have been recycled through the ages. Many lovely Irish love songs were
made into Hymns by Methodist, John Wesley. Perhaps the best know
American Folk filk song is "The Streets of Laredo." In Ireland, it is
known as:"The Bard of Armagh," which is the lament of an aging harper
who is losing his skills. Armagh is one of the oldest cities in Ireland
and dates back to the age of St. Patrick. This is where Brian Boru, the
First High King of Ireland is buried; he was killed in the battle that
defeated the Vikings in 1014.
Silly Filk Songs: Some of the SCA filk songs you may encounter use
modern show tunes. For example:"List Mistress, List Mistress make me a
Match." Others use Christmas Carols.
Humor and Language: Words are fun to play with. Here are some time
1) A pun uses two words that sound alike to make a joke. For example:
"Pass me the Sultana." Sultana can be either a Sultan's lady or a
raisin. Or "I wouldn't put a Knight out on a dog like that." (I wouldn't
put a dog out on a night like this.)
2) A juxtaposition of opposites: "The ladies found Heavy Fighting no
3) Take a tired clichˇ and give it a twist. For examples: Madame
Maleprope's famous" allegory (allegator)on the banks of the Nile."
4) Using heroic or poetic language to describe a mundane situation.
"Then trippingly, the Milkmaid spilt, the frothy cream of Bossy's
Satire: Satire is a form of humor, but it is a double edged sword, use
it at your peril. Satire is an ancient tradition. In ancient Ireland,
satirists were feared and frequently women. Satire provides an
effective and essential social tool to criticize and effect change. It
may allow certain issues and situations to be brought in to
perspective. For example one of the most famous satires of all times is
Jonathan Swift's satire Gulliver's Travels. Although it is considered a
part of children's literature today, it was considered so controversial
at the time that Swift published it under an assumed name. It is a
sophisticated exploration of the nature of religious conflicts and
ethics. For example the Lilliputians fought a religious war over a
disagreement about which end of a hard boiled egg to crack before it is
Under ancient Irish law, Brehon Law, if a husband circulated a satire
about his wife, it was grounds for divorce. Writing a satire about some
one could get your killed or your could suffer some other form of
retaliation. Actually, times haven't changed that much, so use satire
Keep Your Material Clean: At a formal bardic circle, bawdy material is
not well received by certain judges. You may find yourself
interrupted. One has to wonder how Shakespeare would have gotten along
with these judges.
Performing Other Peoples Material: If you know the author of your piece,
whether ancient or modern be sure and acknowledge this authorship.
Original Material: If you are the author or composer of your material,
you should identify yourself as the author or composer. You should
always keep your original drafts of poems or stories, etc. This is in
the unlikely event that authorship of a piece comes into question.
It is often difficult to come up with original material. You may
borrow ideas, if you transform it in some way, but always acknowledge
any sources you may have used. Shakespeare didn't, but you should. On
occasion people misappropriate material unintentionally. The song or
phrase that came to mind so easily, be sure and examine it carefully, it
could be a variation of the Aggie Fight Song.
Improving Your Performance: Always give your first performance to a
receptive audience, people who care about you enough or who are bored
enough to listen or you may never perform again. Even professionals use
friends to see what works and what does not work. Remember, if you ask
another bard, you may not like what you hear. Remember the turf
protecting middle-agers? Sometimes the better you are the harder they
are on you. Just perform and perform. Remember to have fun.
Preparing For Bardic:
1) How much material must I have prepared for a bardic circle? Not much
more than three. But a bard should have material he has all ready
prepared to fit any occasion. Some people have bardic books with
songs, stories and poems, not always their own. You may already know
folk songs that can be used. One of my favorite performances involved a
Duke getting up, assuming a pose of one hand on one hip, the other held
up like an elephant's trunk. He executed in perfect basso profundo of
"Ooooo, I'm a little teapot..." Always acknowledge the author of a
piece, especially if the material is your own and original. I have heard
that twenty pieces is a good number, but I went to my first competition
with only three. I won best poem and best song. Both were my original
peices. I did not win the competition. The winner had performed nothing
original, but he was know to the shire. The twenty pieces is needed
because often the topic for the competition is not announced until you
are at the bardic circle. This is why some bards have a bard book with a
selection of pieces. Some of the most frequent topics that are asked for
are: Ansteorran history, Chivalry, War, Honor, etc. Remember to always
keep an exact copy of your bard book at home. You might misplace it
during your evenings circulation around the camp fires entertaining and
never see it again.
2)What should I wear to perform? Wear the best and most authentic garb
possible when you perform in competitions. If it is a kingdom
competition, plan all new garb, including a new cloak. Come dressed to
3)Will my Texas or Regional accent work against me? It depends on the
audience and the judges. Regional accents are more appropriate to: "No
kidding, I was there..." Shakespeare does some pretty funny stuff with
regional accents, but in the movie "The Right Stuff" the western twang
takes on a primordial myth making mode.
Try adopting the singing, ringing style of Shakespearean actors.
These actors are able to wring emotion and convey meaning from every
syllable and consonant. It is more closely related to singing than to
ordinary conversational speech.
Presenting Yourself At Bardic:
1) Acknowledge Audience and Judges: When performing at any kind of
Bardic Circle, be sure to greet the lords and ladies of your
audience. Describe how honored you feel etc. Acknowledge the
illustrious judges: "Who so ever and where so ever they may be."
Acknowledge any titled dignitaries present.
2) Introduce Yourself and the Piece You Are about to Perform: You will
want to introduce yourself by name and possibly by shire. If you have
any documentation, present it at this time. Acknowledge the author or
composer of the piece if known. Always state if it is your original
composition, and anyone you may have used as a source of inspiration.
3) Thank Your Audience: Bow or wave your hat. Smile, lots of teeth.
Throwing kisses is acceptable.
*A first draft of this appeared in March 1998 Dream Spinner, the Shire
of Tempio's newsletter.
Copyright 1998 by Pamela Hewitt, the Harper, Pamela Keightley Hughes, 3305 Pecan Drive, Temple, TX 76502-2341. e-mail: shughes at vvm.com (2 "v"s not a "w")
Permission granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided
author is credited and receives a copy.
NOTE: If this article is republished, I would appreciate an email note
letting me know this. Also, a note in the reprint indicating that this
article was found in the Florilegium would be appreciated. -Stefan.