A lot of us spend our days immersed in music. Our radio alarm wakes us up with our favorite tunes. We listen to our iPod in the gym, then turn on the radio in the car on the way to work. Work may have ambient music, or if we're lucky we can tune in to our favorite radio station via the Internet, or play CDs if we work on a computer. After getting the traffic report, we switch back to some music on the radio, before heading home to watch some TV where a nearly subconscious soundtrack increases the drama or comedy of each scene. Even our commercials are highly musical, many with jingles we can sing years after we first heard them.
At events, we tend to box the music up. We expect (or maybe dread) a performance or two at feast, and maybe a bardic circle if it's a camping event. If there's a bardic competition, there's some music there. And of course, if you're lucky enough to have dancing, that's where the instrumentalists can go. I have occasionally heard a boombox or two, playing ambient music under a dayshade or in the kitchen. (Incidentally, a boombox works in the kitchen. A live performer there would just get in the way of the cooks. That is bad; they have knives.)
Where's the music?
We're working at getting more ambient music at events around here. I've heard Lord Richard Wyn of Bright Hills in a far pavilion, his guitar echoing down the event site. Mistress Fevronia Murometsa has perched herself on a hillside and let her harp and voice roll down to the field. Our humble Music Ensemble has set up shop and played, and I've parked myself under a dayshade for an hour or so to provide music. I'm sure there are others whom I haven't heard, or who don't come to mind at the moment. It's coming along. But why is it something we have to work at?
On the one hand, it's because it is work. It's not critical volunteerism, like Troll or MOL, nor physically demanding work like list field set-up or pavilion tear-down. It looks a lot like loafing around, to be honest, and in some ways it is. We love our work and it's fun. But to commit to spend an hour providing music is an hour we're not participating in the event's other activities, not speaking with our friends, not shopping or eating or enjoying the weather. It's a service for which, I'll point out, people in the mundane world will pay $60-$100 an hour.
Yes, seriously. Go find out how much a harpist or harper charges for playing at a wedding. That's the value of live music.
On the other hand, bards aren't used to being background music, especially the vocalists. Instrumentalists often have some experience with being ambient sound - as dance musicians, if nothing else. Vocalists expect attention. And to a certain extent, the populace also feels that they should give them attention. Singing is close to speaking, and when someone starts speaking loudly near us, we (usually) attend to them to see what they have to say, at least for a few moments.
But the populace is not at the event to listen raptly to bardic performance. They are there to socialize, and fight, and shop and eat and enjoy the weather. A "bard in a box" can be politely ignored and relegated to background music. With a live bard, there can be some tension. Does he expect me to listen to the whole thing? Will she be mad if I keep walking? Am I supposed to do something here?
I think the problem on the first hand is of more consequence than the problem on the second hand. The second hand will solve itself if we just make more music, more often, in more places, until it becomes normal. I'm not advocating that bards entirely self-efface until they become walking boomboxes, but not every performance needs to be all eyes on the bard, either.
The first problem is valuing the intangible. People do value it - I've played harp throughout a feast, utterly ignored by all signs - until people came up afterward to tell me how much they enjoyed music while they ate. Our experiments in court music have gone over exceptionally well. Once you find a hole for music and fill it, people will miss it when it's gone. But you have to find the holes, and then fill them at enough events that people begin to associate the music with moment. Then you'll start seeing autocrats put out a call for volunteer musicians and bards along with trolls, MOLs, kitchen help and waterbearers.
Some obvious (to me) holes:
- Troll. Wouldn't it be nice to be entertained while you waited on line?
- Royal or baronial room, dayshade, hangout. Crowns need musicians as well as heralds.
- Court, as background music, not as a performance venue.
- Feast, the same. I mean one long stretch of performances, perhaps in different areas throughout the hall, over the entire course of dinner, which would not require silence from the populace. Breaks for the musicians and bards to eat, of course.
- Set-up/Tear-down, especially if there's good work music to be had.
- Kitchen, only with permission of feastocrat
- Newcomer's Point, MOL table, or any other place where other volunteers are sitting for long stretches of time and could use some music to lift their spirits.