Good Enough, Good, and Better
The Great Authenticity Debate touches on all aspects of Scadian life. Costumers discuss fasterns, weaves, patterns. Is cotton all right if you can't afford linen? Campers debate the virtues of hiding coolers in wooden boxes. Cooks try to compromise between real medieval food and the modern palette. Bards get sucked in, too.
- One bard's views on the Great Authenticity Debate, circa 2001
I've heard all points of view, from "I'm just here to have fun" to "A blatantly modern instrument ruins an event for me." I prefer a middle path, which I will call Good. I think it to be Good because it seems to me to offer the most amount of performance with the most amount of authenticity. I will explain below.
Better is the Enemy of Good.If strict authenticity standards are adhered to, very little will get performed in the SCA. We are a large, eclectic group, and Early Music afficionados make up only a small part. Also, many people develop in steps or stages, and to insist that they make the jump immediately to fully authentic will result in many of them not making the jump at all.
I offer a personal example. After reading the letters between Abelard and Heloise, I was struck by their tragic story, and Heloise's modern-seeming conception of love. I wished to write a poem about it. So I did. I took a good deal of care with it, re-writing it to fix problems with meter and rhyme. In the end, I was fairly pleased with the poem, and submitted it to the Atlantia Book of Verse, wherein it was published.
Now, while the poem was on a period topic, the style wasn't. While my meter and rhyme are consistent throughout, I did not base them on any period piece. If researching an appropriate period form had, in fact, been necessary to my writing the poem, I do not think it would have been written. While the world would not have been deprived of any great work of art as a result, I would not have taken my first tentative steps out into the realm of verse. And I do not see where it is Good if aspiring poets/singers/storytellers/musicians are quashed before they can even begin.
Similarly, I would rather hear period music on a guitar, or post-period music on a harp, or even post-period-but-not-obviously-modern music on a guitar at an event than hear nothing at all. Performance is rare enough at SCA events as it is; adding authenticity restrictions would make it moreso.
Good Enough is Also the Enemy of GoodThere is an unfortunate tendency of performers to acquire a decent repertoire and decide that it is "good enough." It is true that traditional music, Shakespearean sonnets, and so on are all easily available. Some (like the sonnets) are even period. But there is a vast, vast body of authentic, period material out there, much of which is very entertaining!
The Internet has put enormous amounts of information, once found only in collegiate libraries or obscure music collections, on the desks of many, many people. E-texts often publish ancient works, since they are non-copywritten. And online booksellers make it trivial to enter a keyword like "troubador" and see what comes up. It used to be that you needed to know what books you wanted to special order them; now you can browse a major book chain's entire inventory from your home.
But there is a perception that period entertainment is inaccessible, both to performers and to audiences. This doesn't have to be the case.
A Challenge: To Be GoodI offer to anyone reading this missive a challenge, for your own personal growth as an artist and for the increase of bardic work as a whole. Give yourself a deadline - a week, a month, a year - depending on your duties and the time you give over to bardic studies. During that time, create something - anything. Write a poem, a tune, a story, a play. Maybe explore a bardic art you haven't tried until now. Make it something suitable for performance at an SCA event. If it is your desire to make it a period form, by all means, do so, but it is more important to simply create a good, entertaining piece.
Also within that time, learn something new and period to perform. It need not be long or hard - indeed, the point may be best made if it is not. Memorize a good translation of a poem, perhaps along with the original. Sing the Agincourt Carol. Find a bawdy fabliaux for your next story. And then perform it, and let your audience know from where and whence this item comes.
Best of luck on your endeavors!