Notes on the Known World Bardic Symposium

THL Eliane Halevy of the Barony of Jararvellir in Northshield comments on the Known World Bardic Symposium and the place of bardic circles in SCA life.

THL Eliane writes:

As part of the Known World Bardic Symposium and Cooks' Collegium held in De Pere, WI a couple of weekends ago, I facilitated a panel discussion on the topic of bardic circles: why do we have them, how do we hold them in various parts of the Known World, what are some choices we make in terms of format, and ideas we have for new formats.

Our panel members were:
Master Garraed Galbraith, Ealdormere
Master Michael Alewright, Aethelmearc
Lord Ingus Moen, Northshield/Middle
Mistress Guernen, Outlands

Session attendees also contributed many thoughts and ideas; I don't credit those because there would be too many to name and I was busy getting them all down on the whiteboard. But, my thanks to all who attended and shared.

One more note: I only transcribed this information; please don't yell at me if you see something non-complementary about your Kingdom's bardic culture! The Kingdom-specific comments were shared by the panel members from that respective Kingdom.

Here are the notes I transcribed from the whiteboard after the session:

Reasons we have bardic circles:

  • Above all: FUN
  • Because bardic rhombuses are too difficult (but ovals happen more often)
  • To encourage participation in cultural activities (culture in general)
  • To share experiences with each other
  • To be inspired
  • To support our own egos
  • To get feedback on our work
  • To spread others' word fame
  • Magic
  • To strengthen sense of community
  • To open walls between self and other
  • Hospitality
  • To find those most like myself
  • To make a connection with others
  • To live the dream
  • To remember our history and legends
  • To explore and share history on a personal level
  • To explore language
  • Personal growth

What are the bardic cultures like in various Kingdoms? How are bardic circles run?

Garraed: Ealdormere

  • Strong bardic culture
  • Attitude of non-bards towards bardic culture: respect, fear, interest
  • Political power through words (and its repercussions)
  • Nationalistic; praise songs
  • High vocal quality
  • Influenced by Canadian/immigrant singing tradition
  • "Cliquiness"
  • Circles are most often pick/pass/play, or free-form (no specific format)
  • Bards often act as patrons, create own performance space
  • Small kingdom population; people travel
  • Has kingdom bard position
  • "Raise the roof" tradition: everybody sings together (often at feast)

Michael: Aethelmearc

  • In a state of "bardic development"
  • Much grassroots-level bardic activity
  • Growing bardic community
  • Passionate people
  • Bardic college: exists, not organized
  • "Not yet able to get a hall singing"
  • "Freshly legitimized" bardic community
  • Only one active bardic Laurel
  • Not a whole lot of bardic circles
  • Once-every-other-month circle in one Barony
  • Has kingdom bard position
  • Interested in a non-precedence-bearing bardic award
  • Circles are most often pick/pass/play/pick a friend (that last means that you involve someone else in a performance)

Ingus: Northshield

  • Inclusivity
  • Encouraging/accepting both those who are new and those who are avowedly not skilled as performers
  • Fellowship, community
  • Bardic circles at or after almost every event
  • At least 3 groups do semiregular bardic gatherings
  • Circle formats: pick/pass/play, free-form, segue (=Bardic Uno)
  • Often there is singing before Court
  • Bardic Madness (event with a full day of challenges)
  • Northshield Bardic College & listserv
  • Has Principality Bard tradition
  • NS songsheets are compiled and handed out every Pennsic

Guernen: Outlands

  • Resurgent bardic culture
  • In past, bardic activity was adversely affected by growth of interest in drumming
  • Bardic e-mail list with weekly on-list challenges
  • Bardic circles at camping events; pick/pass/play
  • There is patronage for praise poetry
  • New Kingdom Bard position (Windhover Bard) chosen by 2-part contest, named after bardic Laurel who passed away
  • Usually: participants sit in circle, listeners outside circle
  • Many bardic competitions, not all are serious

Bardic circle formats we have seen:

  • Pass-the-[object] (candle, lamp, stick--essentially pick/pass/play)
  • Concert
  • Active host
  • "Bring out the stars" to save flagging circle
  • DJ
  • Bardic volleyball (two groups or teams field performers alternately)
  • Bardic debate (Ansteorra)
  • Sign-up list
  • Perform-in-honor-of [someone]
  • Competition
  • Pick/pass/play/pull (Midlands; suggestions or challenges are in slips of paper in bag and individual can pull something out)
  • Challenges
  • Themed (filk, period, about a certain thing or theme)
  • Empty chair (in honor of a person/people who can't be there)
  • Presentation to Royalty
  • Segue or Bardic Uno (each piece must have some aspect in common with the previous piece)
  • Naked bardic (Classic swimming hole at Pennsic)

Brainstorms: formats we'd like to see, or have only heard rumors of

  • Strictly "No s***, there I was" stories"
  • Singalong/performalong (only pieces people know or can learn)
  • Teaching circle (teaching pieces to attendees)
  • Bardic swap (exchanging copies of lyrics/music)
  • Bear pit (lineups on either side); might work best in large groups
  • Traveling bardy party
  • Firewalking
  • Completely random pop-up bardic circles, such as in the hall or on a bus
  • Individuals make broad challenges, e.g. "I'd like to hear more war songs"
  • Bardic press gang (different from bardy party in that you pick up bards as you go along)
  • Work party (singing while haybaling, dishwashing, other repetitive tasks)
  • Random bardic encounters (one-on-one)
  • Bardic missions (e.g., going over en masse to entertain at Troll or for the Chirurgeons)

That's what I have! Hope this sparks ideas.

THL Eliane Halevy, mka Jennifer Friedman
Barony of Jararvellir, Principality of Northshield, Middle Kingdom

Be sure to visit the Northshield Bardic College at