Posted by on Thursday, May 31st, 2018

I’ve never been wild about competitions, particularly Bardic competitions, because of a myriad of reasons.  We all do things differently; we have different styles and time-periods that interest us; we focus more or less on spoken or sung pieces; favor different vocal styles; and on and on and on.  I think I’ve participated in six as an entrant in the 30ish years I’ve been performing in the reenactment community.  There have been competitions where I performed something but asked not to be entered in the formal judging, either because it was a competition to select a champion from a place where I didn’t live or because I was just trying out a brand new thing that wasn’t ready yet.  Here’s the list of competitions I entered that I can call to mind. 

  • Some random event down south when the Torc Song was new: Valerian/Vale/Phil was the one who gathered the prize–a cup full of coins and beads–and the performances took place in the feast hall after dinner was over.  They judged the winner based on the volume of applause. I won.  Valerian was incredbly kind.  I was 17 or 18. Strangers talked to me.  It was dizzying and strange and I wanted to hide but I tried to pretend to be a person.
  • Ice Axe, sometime in the early to mid 1990s.  My armor was new and after I’d completely tanked in the tourney, I was press-ganged into entering it into static A&S on behalf of the folks who helped me make it–B-Zar and Bain–and it won something.  I then had a surreal conversation with the Prince at the time, who awkwardly tried to talk me into doing some ludicrous embroidery for him.  And then there was the bardic competition during the feast.  Warning/Killy the Song was brand new (and had its original tune and evil pacing), and I sang that and won.  And then I was lectured for about an hour by a person who shall remain nameless.  Apparently it was wrong for me to receive two prizes in one day, and I shouldn’t really be entering competitons at all because I wasn’t an apprentice, etc. etc.  My household was on the outs with the regional leadership, and I think I just ended up being the scapegoat for a minute.  And that was when I decided that A&S competitions were maybe not for me.
  • Some random pennsic, Etaine and I went to participate in the Chalk Man bardic competition.  I did well but she nailed it with Rumble/Nine/Song of the Varian Disaster, which was relatively new.  Truly.  Nailed it.  She won.  People wept.  Standing Ovation.  Rending of garments.  Marriage proposals.  WON.  And the organizers gave the prize to their house band because the competition was fixed.  We called them on their trash and they admitted it was fixed but asked us to leave.  Shenanigans ensued.  I’ll leave it at that. I was not impressed. 
  • Gulf Wars 2013? 2012? My dear friend Mistress Gwen from Meridies convinced me to enter a performing arts competition–probably the “open.”  I was hesitant because my voice was trashed, so I performed two spoken pieces: Dan do Emain Macha and Boudicca.  I did well but didn’t win.  A person who stayed at the bead cups by the static displays beat me by a bead.  I was absolutely fine with the results and just needed to get back to camp to make dinner, and suddenly Gwen was nowhere to be found. Lo and behold, she had been carried away by other laurels and they were plotting and scheming.  They ended up deciding to make up another award and brought a delegation of amazing people to our long hall for a command performance and award presentation.  It was one of the proudest, most humbling moments of my life–and yes I realize that is a contradiction. But it was.  I wept, kneeling on the stone floor of the hall with Vashti, who had the audacity to try to kneel to me. The significance of the moment was clear to maybe five people in the room, and it was amazing.  
  • Battle on the Bay 2014: Teleri heard me perform a spoken piece by the fire on Friday and graciously asked me to take part in the storytelling competition on Saturday.  I planned to just listen because I had not prepared anything, but the folks there convinced me to enter.  And I won.  They were very kind, and I felt like a jerk. I felt like I butted in and wasn’t really following the rules. 
  • Ruby Joust 2018: There was a competition for the Baronial Bards.  I am not one, because I don’t live in a Barony and I have refused treatied-in Champion in the past, hoping to help folks encourage newer bards. But my friend Mishee, the bard for Highland Forde, asked me to fill in for her.  So I did, and I won.  And I felt like a jerk who butted in and wasn’t really following the rules. Do you sense a trend?


Here is the rub: I don’t like competitions because they make me feel like a bully.  I have had the sort of education and performance experience that is not common amongst new bards.  I’ve been doing this thing since I was a kid. But I don’t hold many honors within the organization for a variety of reasons.  So people ask me to participate because they want to encourage me or to shine a light on me, but I feel like I don’t belong in that position.  And just writing that makes me feel like I’m spewing out hubris.  But I never, ever want to be the bludgeon that makes another artist feel like they’re failing.

When a normal artist or artisan would have been seeking a Laurel to train with, I was in grad school neck deep in ancient Celtic languages, and my household was so far out of favor in the SCA that Atlantia would have preferred we did not exist at all.  During that period of my life, people from very very far away asked me to apprentice to them, but I knew that rarely went well, so I declined.  Now I am more aware of how my anxiety works and know accepting an apprenticeship would put me in a constant state of stress.  I can’t do that to myself or those close to me–it would be madness.  Madness. 

So I sit here, trying to map a path out of this conundrum.  A friend and I are hosting a Bardic Challenge this weekend–not a competition.  I think we would both like to steer these events in a different, more nurturing direction. I know I’m not alone in this angsty place.  I hope we can all help each other. I don’t think there are any easy answers for me, but I’d like to keep other artists out of this position in which I find myself.

Filed in bardic,blather,Celtic,Music | One response so far

One Response to “Competitions”

  1. Kirstenon 05 Jun 2018 at 9:21 pm 1

    Drama! and Intrigue! But really; what a complicated social structure that I didn’t know existed. I wonder if the local SCA is still going? But I don’t join, so, no.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply