Friday is (usually) rant day here at Mi Contra Fa! Just me blowing off steam on whatever bardic soapbox issue comes to mind - it just seems to be appropriate for Friday as a low brain-wattage, wishing-it-were-the-weekend day. You don't have to footnote rants.
So, as anyone reading this blog has gathered, I like research. Lots. Which is good, because it's my job. Not music research, alas; engineering research. But it's still research. And, as someone who thinks that maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to actually do bardic research, I frequently hear that research is besides the point in bardic, because it's really all about the performance.
I have never, and will never, say that you can isolate bardic from performance, or somehow perfect it in a research environment, or that research and documentation can replace an emotional connection to the audience.
It's really not an OR proposition. That's my point. You can have good and bad historically-informed performances. You can have good and bad ahistorical performances. The degree of learning behind a piece (we'll call it "authenticity" even though that's fairly misleading in this case) and how good it is, according to the audience, are two different axes.
No, not the things you use to chop wood. "Ax-eez," the plural of "axis." They're the scales by which you can measure something - if I draw a picture of my car's speed during my commute home, I'll have an axis for time (the time it takes to get home) and one for the car's speed.
The notion that "fun" and "authenticity" are different ends of the same axis rather than two different axes (so that you can have fun/authentic, fun/inauthentic, boring/authentic, boring/inauthentic) is old in the SCA, and enshrined in books like the Knowne World Handbook so that it gets passed on to our newcomers. But the notion is a fallacy. It is based on the assumption that doing work (the research required for authenticity) is not fun, and that the end product of that research must be boring (because it came from an academic process).
Certainly, for many people, research is boring. But there is no reason whatsoever that the results of research must be boring.
Can they be? Oh yes. Will people try and justify wretched, rambling stories and melodically stiff and uninteresting songs as being virtuous, because they are researched? Of course.
Will other people inflict material just as awful on the crowd that's taken from modern sources? Yup. Can period sources and methods yield compelling results? Sure.
Performers want to entertain. And it is undoubtedly easiest to entertain with the modern and traditional material that the audience is already familiar with and is fond of. That does not mean it is impossible to do otherwise. It is harder, though. Do I think bardic would be improved if more people tried to do the hard thing? Yes. Am I judging you because you decline to? No. After all, I don't care to be judged because I don't put more work into my garb. You play in the way that you want to. Music is Good.
Maybe we can all be a little less defensive if we repeat that often enough. Yeah, defensive. A research wonk sighs, "I'd like to see more performance research," and a performance wonk hears, "You're a lazy person if you don't do period material." So the performance wonk says, "I think the audience's response is more important that the documentation," and the research wonk hears, "You just hide behind your paperwork because you can't really perform."
Neither one actually heard what the other said. Neither statement is really contentious. The SCA is ostensibly an educational group; more research is good, right? And of course the point of doing performance is to engage an audience. But because there's this idea that you can't have both things at once, it sets up an artificial polarity. Anyone in one camp must be opposed to the other. So these pretty bland statements get passed through the polarizing filter and we heard insults coming out the other side.
And in the very end, the audience doesn't want to hear us arguing.