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Bardic-Guide-art - 3/2/99


"An Unofficial Newcomers Guide to Bardic Circles and Competitions"

by Pamela Hewitt, the Harper


NOTE: See also the files: bardic-msg, p-stories-msg, story-sources-msg, storytelling-art, poetry-msg, jesters-msg, song-sources-msg, songs-msg.





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.


Thank you,

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

are listening!


    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

serve you."


   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

honored methods.


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

light matter."


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

with caution.


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.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org