Brewng-Bardng-art - 5/23/08
"Brewing and Barding" by THL Thomas Whitehart, aka True Thomas the Storyteller.
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 or translator.
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
Find more of this author's articles and links on his webpage:
Brewing and Barding
(The One-Two Punch that changed the world!)
A Workshop for the Caidan Brewers Guild
Jan. 2008, THL "True" Thomas Whitehart.
In almost all cultures, drinking, and performing (be it poetry, song, speeches, instrumentals, etc.) seem to go hand in hand. If you open up any renaissance song book, or Celtic music book, at least a fourth of the songs will be related to drinking, and most of the really fun one are.
But before we head down that path, let's pry under the rock that is rarely pried under...WHY? It's a funny thing, that while we do a lot of research into recipes, and medieval technology, motives and "gray-ware" are not really investigated that much. But for our class, let's just poke around a bit.
"Why and How" in this case would fall into 4 sections-
WHY do we drink?
Why do we sing (aka Perform)
Why do they go so well together?
How can we use this to our advantage?
Why do we drink?
Why did our ancestors drink? Well as far back as recorded history will show us, mankind has been brewing, almost as soon as we figured out that things with ethanol in them made us act strangely. But the ethanol molecule, which acts as a depressant, in our bodies, has a mixed blessing. Once in our body, and into our bloodstream, it crosses the brain/blood barrier, and goes to work as an anesthetic and nerve depressant. First it affects our cerebral cortex, (intellect) and then our social behavioral centers in the lower cortex (inhibitions).
It can help us relax our inhibitions, and certainly there are some of the other things that come with the drinking of alcoholic beverages (flavinoids (in wine, etc.) carbohydrates, calories, "purer" water source, vitamins, and the temporary reduction of pain, etc.)
But Ethanol is technically a poison. In that it kills brain cells, and too much it can definitely kill you. When our bodies having imbibed too much, they let us know how much they appreciate this by making us nauseous and more. Most people have had first hand experience with a hang-over. The hang-over is literally the recovery from a poisoning. It is not just a coincidence that a food poisoning and alcohol poisoning symptoms are very similar (vomiting, dehydration, dizziness, and so on.) And it can be addictive. Once addicted, during a withdrawal people can go through "DT's" or Delirium Tremens, which are nasty indeed.
Likewise, our judgment can be heavily impaired while under the influence, and this lack of judgment can lead to some severely life altering situations, depending on whom you wake up next to, or what you were saying last night. All this from a molecule, which for all intents and purposes, makes us ill, and tastes bad, to boot!
So, why do we drink? While certainly there are a variety of reasons, (reduction of pain, etc.) that can be addressed, it does seem to come back to an interesting neurological/sociological phenomenon. Many mammals have been seen actively enjoying the taste of fermented fruit etc. It would seem that at some point in our evolutionary development bodies are literally hard wired to enjoy intoxication.
In the Human mammal, we have taken this basic desire, and taken it one step further, in that this mechanism can be triggered by a variety of things. But one thing seems to be a constant- human beings crave and desire the occasional altered state of mind, whether it be brought on by chemicals (derived from plant, animal or mineral), or induced by fasting, meditation, deprivation, abuse, or what have you. Yet the implications of this, are far reaching. Our history as human being has been deeply affected by brewing and intoxication. Many of our profoundest cultural moments, and religions include it. In the Christian religion, the sharing of the host (wine and bread) includes an alcoholic beverage. There are gods worshipped for their connection with brewing, and prayers made (Dionysus, etc.) Many cultures made the sharing of alcohol a key part of the social process. Whether it is the vat of beer at Bronze Age Celtic feast, or the rum and grog on a British man-of-war, the careful and deliberate "self medication" of alcohol is a fundamental part of the human journey. Even the act of sharing drinks together have given a certain social license- People allowed to express their feelings/opinions while intoxicated, are given more social lee-way at that time.
Now that we've discussed a bit about the "Why we drink", let's now turn to the Why of performing.
Why do we perform?
Performance, is an art (and a partially, a science). In its most basic form, it is both a method of self expression, and of communication. It is also part of the human condition, as it has been part of our history since man evolved, and can be seen in every culture. In the case of vocal performance, (and instrumental), one of the key features is that good entertainment is "Evocative". It brings forth emotions, and by use of various words, sounds, etc. they can create synergy, where the adding of two things, can bring forth a third, and so on. These things can create a mental picture, or an emotional connection. While many of us may sing, or whistle, etc. to ourselves, at some point, we want to participate in the artistic experience, whether as an audience, or as a performer. Scientist have pointed out, that our ability to communicate complex ideas and feelings, may have been just as critical to humanities evolution as walking up-right or tool using. The ability to communicate was what allowed civilization and societies to effectively work together. And again, while human beings are in the "creative mode" either performing, or actively visualizing (involved) in singing, poetry, etc. our brains are operating at a different level. We are "in the flow", our sense of time changes, and our body releases endorphins, again, a form of "intoxication". And again, Performance, is involved in most of our most fundamental cultural functions, whether it be celebration, religious rituals, or what have you.
So now we have two phenomena that have been a part of our history, since time immemorial. Certainly, the brewer who drinks alone, and the singer or poet who performs for themselves alone, are certainly part of our cultures. But when we get together, and the wine and beer flow, and music and song rings out, things happen.
Mankind is a Social Animal!
When we gather, we want to communicate. Not all communication is equal. There are times when some forms of communication happen where any form of impairment, is a liability. For example, drinking and singing is not general encouraged in your average court of law. Nor by surgeons or tax accountants (on the job).But there are times, when a reduction in inhibitions, and the ability to communicate evocatively, help us remain cohesive, and build commonalities. We see this at weddings, feasts and wakes.
So the brewers share their wares, and so do the performers. And just as a master brewer will be valued, so will a master communicator (such as a "bard") to use SCA parlance. And civilization and society happen! The places where this happens most have been around for a long time. Be they called, inns, taverns, pubs, or what have you, drinks, songs, and camaraderie are part of what they are all about. Once in this environment, inhibitions drop, communications happen, and society often takes another step forward. Many attempts to stop the creation of these environments (the Prohibition, etc.) have failed. This environment can act as a Petri-dish for ideas and inspiration.
Is it any coincidence that the US anthem was written to an English drinking song? Or that the US Marine Corps was started in Tun Tavern? All the great themes (love, death, betrayal), dramas (wars, plagues and so on), and issues (politics, economics, and religion) have found their way into the music and performance, and they into the place where intoxicating beverages can be had. Then, the magic of the Brewer and the Bard, go to work. To help us talk freely (In Vino Veritas), to share our feelings (A Toast, A Toast!!), to create insurrection, invention, and common cause....Truly, "barding" and "brewing" are the symbiotic twins, enhancing one another thru the ages. Imagine how dull it would be without them!
Now that we've discussed the why and the wherefore, let's get down to the How!
Here's a simple way to teach some of those fine drinking songs....
Call and Response
First, have a simple piece, like a round or a silly song to practice with.
I call this the - "The Janet Cornwall method" (my mentor)
At this point, you discover that folks have a variety of talents, and your group may be just great at ripping thru and learning songs. Keep the form, but go faster. If a song is a bit much, just sing it, and ask folks if they want to learn it, or try a simpler one. NO stress! Always tell folks what you know about the song, and what it means to you (why you like it, etc.) After 3 songs, take a break. After 3 more sessions, take a longer break.
How to bring bardic into brewing and tasting situations-
"Funny you should ask!"
First of all, let's make certain that we include as much as we can under the title "bardic". Let's include instrumental, singing, dance, spoken word (as in raconteur, telling jokes, comedy,). Tis better to be Inclusive than Exclusive.
You could teach a class on traditional songs about drinking and brewing!
Invite people to compose pieces in honor of brews and drinks.
Invite fellow composers and bards, to create pieces, and pay them with beverages (if they are inclined) and with other stuff even if they don't (remember some folks can't imbibe alcohol)
Have a bardic opportunity (stage, demo, showcase, competitions)
Talk to your fellow bards and ask them what they can do.
Invite households to taste, and offer them a prize for best song, etc.
Learn to sing, and train your friends.
Have a best toast competition
Have a 1 minute "Interesting Bit of Trivia" competition.
(What are your ideas?)
Sitting around drinking usually leads to conversation. In some places (the Celtic lands, for instance) it's an art form, hence the phrase "guid Crac" or the "Crac is really grand". They aren't talking drugs! But great conversation! (And you can stimulate this yourself, by throwing out topics, etc.)
Bringing performance into an environment where good drink can be had, is like the "peanut butter and jelly, cookies and milk, grilled cheese and tomato soup, beer and peanuts, wine and cheese, chocolate and flowers" combos that have worked for centuries! If beverage and barding is of acceptable quality- magic can happen!
In this class I will be handing out some copies of traditional folk songs, and will endeavor to teach some. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me-
Copyright 2008 by True Thomas, 663 Fowler Ave., Newbury Park, CA 91320. <Truethomas (at) sbcglobal.net>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.