Monday, October 20, 2014

Singing in Public

I love to sing, but I'm terrified of being judged. This means I frequently sing along to music when I'm cooking or driving alone, because no one's really listening. I sing folk songs to myself while gardening or shoveling snow. I sing a little with and for my young person.
I have sung in public off and on all my life, but it's very difficult for me. I perform better as part of a group, because I have to commit to it, and I'm not alone up there, either.
While I have led songs at folk festival sings, and some Sacred Harp conventions (rarely, but I try to do this a couple of times a year at minimum), I have never ever sung in public in the SCA. Until this past Saturday.

Why is it easier for me to sing in public at folk-music events than in the SCA? My level of comfort is pretty similar in both communities, so that's not it. I think it has to do with rules.

With Sacred Harp, if it's in the book, you can sing it. With a folk-music sing, it's a little more amorphous: if it has a chorus, it's probably safe enough. No one cares how old or traditional it is most of the time.

In the SCA, it's harder to tell what people are looking for or what they will accept. Because of the historical basis of the society, the ideal is to sing what your persona would have sung. Thus, in my case, a song from 12th century England, Wales, or Mongolia.

Because it's the Society for Creative Anachronism, though, there's some fudge-factor in the dates--really anything pre-1600 will do, though that cuts out the majority of what we consider folk songs (written primarily in the 18th century or later).  It cuts out at least 90% of the over 200 songs I know. There's also filking, but that's a very divisive issue (I like it, but I don't compose).

So, some people will look down their noses at you if your music isn't appropriate to your persona. Others only if it's not medieval. Still others don't care what you sing, as long as it doesn't reference modern things too much. You never know how your audience will react.
Being someone who is terrified of judgment, I have avoided the issue by just not singing at all.

However, this project is meant to be a challenge.

My choice for a venue was an event held in my barony, called "Sergeants, Yeomen, and Gallants".
Many years ago in my barony, this event began as a concept stolen from An Tir, where it is a much bigger deal. It ran for some years, and then it fell by the wayside. Master Fridrikr picked it back up last year.
The event is a competition in which, to earn a belt, you must participate in a set of activities representing all the Society has to offer, and the gentle with the highest score wins.

Our competition required one to participate in the following:
A Martial Activity (fighting: sergeant, fencing: gallant, archery and/or thrown weapons: yeoman)
Gaming (including checkers, fox and geese, and nine men's morris)
Heraldry (a test)
Tactics (a test)
Arts and Sciences (if you entered an item in the display, you got extra credit)
I chose fencing, and to sing a song.

The fencing tournament was lovely, and I lost all of my rounds.
The gaming was fun, and dancing was great. Heraldry was relatively easy for me. Tactics, well, I know I'm no tactician: I didn't fail, but I didn't do well.

So then came the performance.
I had hemmed and hawed over this for months, because at one point I had tried to learn some 14th century French songs for the reenactment group (though I'd never gotten to the point of memorizing them). I thought about doing one of the songs by Guillaume de Machaut, Moult Sui De Bonne Heure Nee, which I like because, unlike most of his songs, it's from the point of view of a woman. It's also not one of his long and involved songs, but one with some repetition, making it a little easier to learn. I learned it off of "Ay Mi! Lais et Virelais" by Emmanuel Bonnardot.
The other option was Jean de Nivelle, a 16th century song that I really enjoyed, because it seemed like the sort of song that could have a ton of verses.
I learned it off of "La Rocque 'N' Roll: Popular Music of Renaissance France" by the Baltimore Consort.
I went with the latter because I had enough familiarity with it that I thought I could pull it off.

Jean de Nivelle was the son of Jean II de Montmorency-Nevele, a 15th century French nobleman. When his father supported King Louis XI in his war against the Duke of Burgundy, Jean refused to join him. He was disinherited. From this incident, the expression "comme le chien de Jean de Nivelle" became known, meaning: someone who doesn't do as asked/a dog who doesn't come when called. 
This song illustrates that point (and is also insulting to Jean de Nivelle in a "yo mama" kind of way).

Jean de Nivelle a trois enfants
Jean de Nivelle a trois enfants
Dont il y en a deux marchands
Dont il y en a deux marchands
because I love hurdy-gurdy
L'autre escure la vaisselle
Hay avant, Jean de Nivelle
Hay, hay, hay, avant
Jean de Nivelle est un galant!

Jean de Nivelle a trois chevaux
Deux sont par mouts et part vaux
 Et l'autre n'a point de selle

Jean de Nivelle a trois beaux chiens
Dont il y en a deux vauriens
L'autre fuit quand on l'appelle

Jean de Nivelle a trois gros chats
L'un prend souris, et l'autre rats
L'autre mange la chandelle

Jean de Nivelle a deux housseaux
Le roi n'en a pas de si beaux
Mais il n'y a pas de semelle

Jean de Nivelle a un valet
si il n'y pas beaux, il n'y pas laid
Il accoste une pucelle
Hay avant, Jean de Nivelle
Hay, hay, hay avant, Jean de Nivelle est triomphant!

(en Anglais, translation helped along by a few different versions)

Jean de Nivelle has three children
Two of them are merchants
The third cleans the dishes.
Jean de Nivelle is a fancy-man

Jean de Nivelle has three horses,
Two for the hills and dales
The other is missing a saddle.

Jean de Nivelle has three beautiful dogs,
Two are good-for-nothing
The other doesn't come when you call

Jean de Nivelle has three large cats,
One eats mice, the other rats,
The other eats the candles.

Jean de Nivelle has a pair of tall boots
Even the king hasn't got as lovely a pair
But they have no soles.

Jean de Nivelle has a valet,
If he is not handsome, he isn't ugly
He propositions girls.
Jean de Nivelle is triumphant!

I only sang the first four verses, and I screwed up a little on the pronunciation (because Medieval French is funny, and I'm a little unsure of myself with it), but I got through it, and no one seemed to mind.
According to a book I read a long time ago, and my friend Katrusha, who studied IPA in medieval language, Medieval French is way more in the front of your mouth (no swallowed 'r's) than Modern French, but it's hard to make yourself do that when you're used to Modern French and also nervous.
I did earn the Gallant's Belt.

Will I do it again? I doubt it, though perhaps in a bardic circle instead of in front of a roomful of people and the Baronage. Still, I did it once, and that's worth something, right?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Fiber Arts Extravaganza

Okay, maybe extravaganza is a bit much. However, there are some things on my list that are done, but I haven't said anything about, and several of them are fiber-arts related (because I'm a card-carrying fiber-geek).

Inkle Looms and Their Results

I started weaving when I was a fairly young kid, first with potholder-looms and knitting mushrooms (yes, knitting counts, dammit), then with a rigid heddle loom made of popsicle sticks at camp (and gods-eyes...remember those? Weaving!).
My mother had a thing for changing up summer camps every week or so, and one of the many I attended was Helderberg Workshop. Every summer I took one class there: one year it was doll making, one year archery, but several years in a row I took weaving, because I loved it the minute I tried it. The instructor, Karin Demis, is an excellent weaver, and also spins and dyes, and used to raise her own Angora rabbits. She taught us about mohair and wool, took us out gathering goldenrod and sumac for dyeing, and every year I came back, she suggested a new and more difficult weaving project. One year I did a wagon-wheel pattern with stripes of different colors, and my final year there she had me weave lace with lovely, soft, shiny, cream-colored cotton thread.
the tinkle loom:
strings in the middle are heddles
Of course, a four-harness table loom is pretty expensive, and a floor loom more-so, and neither one is particularly portable (some four-harness looms fold up, but it's a little terrifying watching the warp get all tangly-looking, and you never know what might happen).
After my introduction to the SCA, I discovered inkle looms, and that was very exciting to me.
There's a limit to how wide your fabric can be, but you can get pretty interesting without cards, and if you add cards, you can get downright complicated with your patterning.
I think of them as warping boards you can weave on (except there's some tensioning with a regular inkle loom that isn't possible on a warping board).
My first inkle loom was actually a "tinkle" loom (tiny-inkle...yeah...). It's capable of a similar width to a medium inkle loom, and much more portable, and you can move around the pegs to determine your width and increase your tension. The maximum length is about 2 feet, which is enough for a basic piece of trim, two garters for me, or one for a larger human.
I made lots of small trim and garters on that, and played with some silk thread to make ribbons.
linen striped trim
silk ribbon
linen garter

 Finally, a few years ago, I got a real inkle loom, and began working with wider trim and fabric belts.
Being me, I jumped right into the deep end of inkle loom weaving, because why not? I bought a set of cards made of wood veneer from Spanish Peacock, and warped up a really complicated red and black pattern in linen thread, which ended up interesting, and not completely obvious as a screw up, but it wasn't quite right, either.
Also, it turns out, linen thread gums up the works really quickly. As you work with it, it frays a little, and the more it frays, and the more you turn the cards, the more gummy it gets behind the cards, until it's nearly impossible to work with. I lost a few threads and had to tie them back in, and I snapped a few cards, and it was very frustrating.
I have worked with cards since, but I spent quite a while working with card-free stripes before I started anything more complicated again. It's possible to do some pretty nice things with horizontal and vertical stripes, though.
I found that with my inkle loom, I can get just enough warp to go around me twice, but not enough to keep going (so I can make a Norman-style fabric belt, but the dangly-bit has to be plain strings, or a simple braid). The only problem with this is that you have to plan it out way ahead of time, because if you do what most people do, and wind the thread for the same color around and around instead of tying it off every time you finish a revolution, you'll end up with ends that are only barely longer than the piece, and no strings to braid.
No problem if you're making trim, but a problem if you want a long piece at the end.
So far I have worked in linen, pearl cotton (for demos), wool, and silk. They all have their own issues, but they are all fun in their own ways.
wool, card woven, reversed

pearl cotton, from a demo
this is not edge-weaving
it is trim on a Viking apron

 Weaving on the Edge

One interesting thing about card-weaving, independent of inkle looms, is that in the 14th century, people used it to reinforce the button-hole edge of their cotehardies. I decided to try this a few years ago, when I was first starting in the 1391 group, and trying to hand-sew everything. I did a quick, two-card pattern on the edge of my husbands cotehardie, using my big toe as a tensioner (it worked okay. Moving from one room to the next in the middle of the project was a real pain, though). It went beautifully. Sadly, a few years ago his cote got caught in the washing machine, and giant holes were ripped in it, so I no longer have it for pictures.
This is where I got my information.

Drop Spinning

Over the years I've tried drop-spinning a few times, learning it for a few days, then forgetting how to do it, then re-learning, etc. This is actually my pattern of learning for a few different things, including knitting.
A few years ago, a lady in my Barony was running a drop-spinning class, and she gave away the spindles at the end. They were cheap, just a thin wooden weight on a skinny dowel with a paperclip hook on the end, but the nice thing was that, with the ability to take it home, I was able to keep practicing. Then I bought my beautiful drop-spindle, again from Spanish Peacock, and got way more into it.
I'm most comfortable with the top-hook method, which results in very thin thread, and is somehow less likely to fall on the floor (at least for me).
I don't do it a lot, but it's a great thing to do for demos, because you can do it while talking, and it gives people something to ask you about. Also, it's pretty much period for any time in the Medieval Era, and before, and after.
I have spun on a spinning wheel (also at Helderberg Workshop), and I have an inherited flax wheel at home, but it has a tension issue that hasn't been addressed yet, and it squeaks like crazy. Someday I will fix it, or just save up for a modern one, and begin spinning more regularly.