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Pimpin' the Music

So, um. I've been told in no uncertain terms by a couple of band mates that now I'm "famous", I need to pimp our cd, Lookin' For an E.   We recorded it a couple of years ago, and I'm pretty pleased with it (Bob and I did most of the mixing).  I wrote three of the songs - Ring on Your Finger, Light in the Window, and Agincourt, and arranged two more - Banks of the Lee, and a little-known folk song, When Fortune Turns Her Wheel.

Bob arranged Men of Harlech - and it's a cool arrangement.

I sing lead/co-lead on five of the songs.  It's an attack laurel jamboree, or something.  So yeah, I've pimped it now.   Doing so has made me quite uncomfortable (I am in no way cut out to be a salesperson), so I will now babble on generally about music. 

I actually really love When Fortune Turns Her Wheel - the tendency at bardics (and Renaissance Fairs) for a long time has been to sing Parting Glass at the end, and I wanted to find something to finish up our performances that had that kind of feel, but was less common than Parting Glass - like Carrickfergus, it's a nice song, but way overdone.  I found Fortune at the back of a generally well-known folk song book (A Bonnie Bunch of Roses), and realized that it was really lovely.  A little re-write of the words, arrangement for three parts plus melody (melody and chords was all the book had, and I had to adjust some of the chords), and we had a new song that wasn't being done by everybody.

(Though now I've told y'all where to find it, I expect it will become a little more well known.)

There's a difference between people getting together to sing, and performing, I think - getting together, and the participatory nature of "bardic circles" (I'm afraid I rather hate the term, but feely admit that I don't have a great substitute) means that one can sing a single song for longer - as long as everyone is singing along with you.  The death of a bardic circle is the person who insists on singing all thirty million verses of Greensleeves, solo, without any help or any instruments, and gets all snippy when you try to sing along.  Even if they're not singing off-key (which they usually are), it's a sterile experience for the listener; they've worked out how the tune goes by verse two, and after that, if not allowed to participate on the chorus, they're just going to fidget and wish you'd stop.  It's not really the reaction you want - and they're less likely to invite you if you insist on doing it every time.  

In other words, don't sing twenty verses when four will do.  A good rule of thumb for modern audiences (which is most people in the SCA) is to keep each piece not much longer than a rock song, especially if only one person is singing.

And no cheating and claiming Ina-Gadda-Da-Vida is the length of one song, and so you can sing for that amount of time.  That fucker is 17 minutes long, and you know it.  Most people in a Bardic circle will have fled long before you finish, and who wants to be the person that killed the evening's entertainment?

Honestly, most people don't have the attention span to sit through endless recitations of music they don't know.  The more esoteric the music, the more careful you need to be - most people are somewhat unfamiliar with pre 19th century music.  The rest of us live in perpetual fear of sitting through madrigal after madrigal - since that's all the period music most people know (including amateur singing groups, who insist on madrigals, even though there's oodles of great stuff out there that isn't a madrigal).

(I hate most madrigals - they're a sterile art form, like an etude.  Some can be pretty, but basically, they're pieces written to excercise the voice and show off the tricks the composer can do.  Give me a good meaty Tallis any day.)

(Om nom nom, Tallis.  And a little Byrd on the side, if you please.)

(Ha, ha, a little musician's joke, there.)


But even your folk songs shouldn't be endless - unless everyone knows all the verses, and they're all happily singing along (everyone loves to sing in groups at bardics.  It are a fact).  Stick to three or four verses, and leave them wanting more, not wishing you'd shut up, already.  If someone asks to learn your song, and is all starry-eyed about it, you're probably doing okay, but check your four-verse rule, just in case.  They might just be sucking up.

The other problem with singing a fourty verse song is that your SCA audience will never tell you that your singing blows, even if you suck really, really bad.  They'll sit politely, and applaud politely at the end, and reassure you that they liked it.  Someone with completely cloth ears will always come up to you afterwards and tell you how great you were.  I have seen this in action - someone gets up, drones an interminable song, and everyone applauds.  Encouraged, the person jumps up again as soon as they can, and drones through another interminable song, and so on, until all the musicians have left, or someone "accidentally" trips and shoves the droner into the bonfire.

Lives can be saved if you find a good friend who will tell you the truth - sing to them, and ask for honest feedback.  And listen - if they're scrunching up their face and saying "...it wasn't that bad", assume you suck, and either practice a lot, or restrict your singing to group singalongs.  Try not to hear what you want to hear, and don't assume you're great no matter what your friends say (because they're just jealous and haters, and you're going to be a star someday, just like on American Idol) - you'll be a lot less likely to end up doing an "accidental" face plant into the fire pit.  Yes, you may love the attention - we understand, really we do - but you'll get more positive attention longer if you keep it short and are willing to share the spotlight.  People may even specially invite you to their bardics!  Imagine!

Even if you're good, you have to remember that you are supposed to be entertaining.  The audience is not your collection of paid minions, they're nice people who want to have a good time.  Your job as a performer is to help them have that good time.  Therefore, play to your audience, and even if you feel that your audience is a bunch of ignorant morons who wouldn't know period music if it screamed at them, please don't try to "educate" them with a three-hour epic version of The Pilgrim's Tale set to nose harp, or I'll come after you myself and teach you what "educate" really means.  

And, on a personal note, stop singing the Moose song.

Please.

Comments

( 33 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
cathgrace
Aug. 21st, 2008 01:39 pm (UTC)
so where can someone pick up (read purchase) a copy of the little silver disk of which you speak?
thornbury
Aug. 21st, 2008 01:46 pm (UTC)
I believe if you click on the link she posted under the title, you can buy it there.
attack_laurel
Aug. 21st, 2008 01:51 pm (UTC)
Link above goes to CDBaby, from whence you can listen to samples of some of the tracks, and buy it, if you are so inclined.
cathgrace
Aug. 21st, 2008 02:01 pm (UTC)
see that is just too obvious for me clearly...... sorry didn't notice the link.
orlacarey
Aug. 21st, 2008 05:49 pm (UTC)
If you want to hear it before buying let me know. It's on my Ipod. But you should probably just buy it. The CD has my favorite version of Banks of the Lee on it.
attack_laurel
Aug. 25th, 2008 10:29 am (UTC)
*blush* Thank you! I noodled with that arrangement a lot before finalizing it. I'm weird, and wanted a version that wasn't pretty. It's a devastating song, as many of the 19th century "lost love" songs are, and I wanted an arrangement that would reflect that.
thornbury
Aug. 21st, 2008 01:45 pm (UTC)
Salesperson or not, Lookin' for an E is worth the plug. Good stuff. Has it really been out for that long?
attack_laurel
Aug. 21st, 2008 01:52 pm (UTC)
Yup. We also have copies still, and people can buy it directly from us. We actually sold out of the first pressing, so got more.
thornbury
Aug. 21st, 2008 02:02 pm (UTC)
Very cool. I knew you guys had sold out, but didn't know you'd restocked. That's quite an endorsement right there.
maricelt
Aug. 21st, 2008 01:49 pm (UTC)
*chuckle*
I've started trying to institute the word "Celidh" instead of "bardic circle". It's a perfectly good, historically accurate, Gaelic word that means "an informal get together to share music, dance and stories."

And I agree with you on hunting those who sing the Moose song.
maricelt
Aug. 21st, 2008 01:58 pm (UTC)
Actually, just had to add, I went and listened to the examples on the CD site. You have a lovely voice, very clear, very true. And the work on Agincourt by the group is good. hmmm.... I'm tempted, very, very tempted. Thanks for telling me about the CD.
attack_laurel
Aug. 21st, 2008 02:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you. My music teacher would be glad to know he didn't waste all that time! :)
reasdream
Aug. 21st, 2008 05:44 pm (UTC)
Celidh would be a very good term.
(sadly, it has entrenched itself in my head in the modern Scottish usage, which is used to describe a party at which there is Scottish Country dancing and copious food and drink - but not much group singing).
bdeb
Aug. 21st, 2008 02:01 pm (UTC)
Well, no need for me to write an entry today..... :-)

I love Looking for an E. I must have done something right by the gods of bardic (I too HATE that term, barding being for horses, but the whole Trobar/Puy thing never took off) because the scurvy pirates play it and Clann an Drumma (another favorite) over and over during land grab set up. They also play some bad pirate dreck, but the good stuff has started to outshine the crap.

Mist covered mountains is Melisent and I's favorite piece, and of course Gen is awesome and I even have some of your practice cds. hehe. I sneak, therefore I am. (To be fair I know a lot of the stuff you guys do from Niall anyway.)

I am guilty of letting bad singing go unpunished, unless I am drunk, and then I might go into Attack mode.

And word to the wise, if you start out standing the firepit, you can't be pushed in.... :-)
pinkleader
Aug. 21st, 2008 04:13 pm (UTC)
I did?
Then it has been a while 'cause I don't remember doing so...

You must have used your magic Peer Evil powers on me to make me forget! Yeah, that's it.
bdeb
Aug. 21st, 2008 07:09 pm (UTC)
Hm it might have been Mix Mistress Theo that was the culprit...
bdeb
Aug. 21st, 2008 02:03 pm (UTC)
Oh and I have a funny/cruel story about what happens when you combined a very tippsy Balynar and I, and poor unsuspecting pennsic people, and the damned Moose Song. But i'll save that for another day....
loosecanon
Aug. 21st, 2008 03:34 pm (UTC)
Something they teach in cooking school: underpromise and overdeliver.
I enjoy performers who leave me wanting more. Short tales, short songs, they leave me wistful, not suicidal.
Nice post =)
evil_fionn
Aug. 21st, 2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
How to kill a bardic circle
I can understand why the long drawn-out solo will kill a circle. Thankfully, we don't have too many of those kinds of singers in Calontir though... we all sing along, whether you want us to or not. :-) And try to stop us from doing so, if you think you can. :-)
What tends to kill bardic circles in this area are dumbek players and belly dancers who just plop down and begin playing and shimmey-ing, without asking if anyone wants them to.
Its even worse when you move from one circle to another to escape them, and they discover their audience has disappeared, so they follow you.
attack_laurel
Aug. 21st, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
Re: How to kill a bardic circle
Substitute "victims" for "audience", and I'm totally in agreement. :) An audience is usually happy to listen - and if your audience disappears, that's BIG FRICKING CLUE.
evil_fionn
Aug. 21st, 2008 07:38 pm (UTC)
Re: How to kill a bardic circle
And you never happen to have a handy clue-by-four when you need it to help those who are just too dense to "get it" otherwise. :-) Or you're being "mean". :-) I loved that post you did a while ago on the professional hysterics in the SCA, by the way. I giggled for days. :-)
bdeb
Aug. 21st, 2008 06:56 pm (UTC)
Re: How to kill a bardic circle
one of the funniest/saddest things I have ever seen was when cross-kingdom cultures collide. I was at Lillies and Outlands decided that it was going to bring the sweet drumming of the Pax Outlandi to the heathens of Calontir, and Calontir decided that obivously the poor Outlanders MUST be tired of all that drumming and started Singing. I was asked to sing, cranked out Roland, and got the hell out of there for a private circle Conn was holding.
evil_fionn
Aug. 21st, 2008 07:33 pm (UTC)
Re: How to kill a bardic circle
That sounds about right... :-) It makes me giggle when outside folks decide that Calontir needs to be "shown the error of their ways" and be less heathen-ish, and then in turn We decide to "edu-ma-cate" them on how very much We love Our ways, thank-you-very-much, and you would be much happier if you did it Our way. Or at least have more fun, in Our humble opinion. :-)
I think its sort of amusing, coming from a more diverse cultural background than most (military brat, active duty military and military wife). Its interesting to see how personally people take others' cultural differences, even within the SCA , where we actually try to make an effort to be more accepting.
Occasionally. :-)
sarahbellem
Aug. 21st, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
Yet another novel from Ms. Bellem...
Yay! Music! I needs more of it! I've also had a huge cup of really good coffee, so I'm going to be VERY chatty! :)

Music is my "other" artform in the SCA (all my awards are for music), and I just wanted to say you hit the nail on the head (as always. Like I ever disagree with you... ;). Most people can only handle a 3 minute song; five minutes at the longest. Hell, most singers can only handle singing for 3-5 minutes at a time, even trained ones. Even when I was at my peak of my singing career, I would get mentally fatigued after about 3 minutes of nonstop singing; and as an audience member, 3 minutes is about as far as my attention span goes for live music unless its one hell of a song.

I can nerd out all day long about period music and singing, but I'll spare your journal. Let's just say that it's been on my mind a lot lately. ;)
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thatpotteryguy
Aug. 21st, 2008 05:50 pm (UTC)
"Chihuahua women (you know the type, their garb is so skimpy, they just stand there and shake)."

Heee! Can I borrow that? I LOVE it...
(Anonymous)
Aug. 21st, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC)
Of course, I stole it from a friend of mine in Caid.
pinkleader
Aug. 21st, 2008 04:10 pm (UTC)
Yes! We are awesome! Buy us! as Beth Patterson says "Take us home without our issues..." I'll try to be better to go back to keeping for sale copies on me at events.

But we really need to get back together and start singing again. Miss it I does.
cbellfleur
Aug. 21st, 2008 04:55 pm (UTC)
I remember years ago a lady who liked to recite very long epic poetry. One night, she stood in front of high table during the feast and must have gone on for about 20 minutes. Talk about a captive audience! There were not-quite-audible groans every time she got up to perform. Don't get me wrong - she was very good at it. Just picked pieces that were too long for the situation/audience.
reasdream
Aug. 21st, 2008 05:43 pm (UTC)
But... we like the Moose song. Particularly those of us who were snickering teenagers when the Moose Lodge (overtly) ruled Atlantia. Singing it is like quoting that letter from the Breakfast Club! Or something.

There are definitely performer's bardics and social bardics and sing-along bardics. I've been to some where it is okay to do 10-15 of teh 40 verses of the Ballad of Otterburn because everyone there is a musician and they're interested in something new. Those are fun.

But, as you said, you have to know your audience. And most bardics are more "let's hang out and sing and drink" with people who are only somewhat musical, as opposed to a bunch of music geeks.

As for a name... we could always call them "sessions", as they do in the folk scene. Although I doubt it would catch on (like Troll, it seems to stick).
reasdream
Aug. 21st, 2008 05:47 pm (UTC)
And, meant to say - thank you for introducing "When Fortune Turns Her Wheel". I hope it does catch on (and it made the perfect song for my last night at Pennsic this year. Mmm, real musicians!)
gottasing
Aug. 22nd, 2008 03:29 am (UTC)
Preach it! Whenever I am asked to give advice to a performer in the SCA, I invariably say "remember to leave them wanting more". Because they so rarely do.
( 33 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )

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