Songs I’ve Sung

To date, I have had a hand in writing three songs in the SCA. Two of them are silly. Two have corresponding illumination. One is based on a period poem and requires context. None of them get performed often, in part because I don’t attend many bardic circles, and within those circles, reading the tone of the circle to know what is best to present for the continued enjoyment of the participants/listeners is a challenge in regard to these songs.

So I’m presenting them here, if only so I keep a record of them in one spot.


The first was in answer to the Bard, Scribe, Illuminator challenge at the 2012 Northshield Bardic Madness. The theme was to do with animal puns, so Mistress Orlaith Ballach Inghean Fhlain, Larkin of Schattentor, and I wrote a filk of The Teddy Bear’s Picnic about the Great Bears of Northshield. I apologize for the lighting – this was in the last Fyte, which was the Feast Fyte, and I’d feel bad about doing a new recording without Larkin.

Illumination by me, based on an amalgamation of pages from the Taymouth Hours (February and March; f. 1v and 2r). I can’t recall who did the calligraphy, but it was probably Orlaith.
Chorus: (With the number lowering with each iteration)
Four Great Bears went out one day
To prove for good and all
Who was the Greatest of the Bears
To Grace a Northshield Hall

Fiskr [Fish] set out at a healthy pace
But then he began to flounder


Ia took a breath to prepare
But then she found that she lacked consonants

[consonance; there is an infamous CD of Ia singing filks]
Skjaldvør [called Wyndreth] had the breeze at her back
But the wind went out of her sails


Tarrach began to take the lead
But then he met up with a T-Rex

[Tarrach was Northshield's second King, and had previously
been King of the Middle - and would often sign T. Rex]

The second song is All Griffins Are Girls – A Heraldic Primer, which I wrote with Baroness Katerinka Lvovicha in either 2013 or 2014. She tells a story about helping someone at a Heraldic Consult table with fish heraldry, and to make a fish not look dead and hanging to dry, the attitude needs to be naiant. And, being Northshielders, we latched onto the conceit that Griffins are Girls. The words are here!

You might want to turn the sound up a bit on this one, or you can watch the video of us trying to remember the words and do the motions on the fly at a Bardic Madness post-revel.


That same year, for that same event, I answered a challenge for pieces based on period texts, etc. I chose Yehuda Halevi’s My Heart is in the East. (And I’ll eventually put my hands on the illumination again and upload the image.) I don’t have a recording from the event, but I do have something I recorded with my phone. This is the sad one. This is the one that requires context.

Yehuda Halevi was born c. 1075-1086 in Al-Andalus. He was a physician and philosopher and considered one of the greatest Hebrew poets. Halevi wrote The Kuzari, a pillar of Jewish philosophy, and was part of the “golden age” of Hispano-Jewish culture and life in Granada during the 11th century. He died in 1142, shortly after arriving in Israel. He lived during the entire First Crusade, and much of his poetry is marked by his longing to go to Israel. His text is below – I used several different translations to guide my own adaptation of his verse, in English, to music.

יהודה הלוי
לבי במזרח


לִבִּי בְמִזְרָח וְאָנֹכִי בְּסוֹף מַעֲרָב
אֵיךְ אֶטְעֲמָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר אֹכַל וְאֵיךְ יֶעֱרָב
אֵיכָה אֲשַׁלֵּם נְדָרַי וָאֱסָרַי, בְּעוֹד
צִיּוֹן בְּחֶבֶל אֱדוֹם וַאֲנִי בְּכֶבֶל עֲרָב
יֵקַל בְּעֵינַי עֲזֹב כָּל טוּב סְפָרַד, כְּמוֹ
יֵקַר בְּעֵינַי רְאוֹת עַפְרוֹת דְּבִיר נֶחֱרָב.

My heart is in the East
But I am at the end of the West.
How can I savor food, how can it be called pleasing -
How can I render my vows and my bonds
While Zion lies in fetters
And I am in Arab chains?

It would be too easy
To leave behind the bounty of Spain -
So precious is the dust
Of that desolate sanctuary.

Having been likely written at some point either during or after the First Crusade, Halevi’s poem carries a lot of emotional weight. What struck me was the intense, mournful longing, which I tried to bring into the music. Given the continued turmoil in the region, I opt not to sing this song unless asked, so that I can provide the proper context. And since I don’t go to many bardic circles due to having small children, I don’t get asked often at all. And honestly? That’s okay. It’s an emotional song for me, as much as it was good practice in taking existing words and figuring out a tune for them. It doesn’t need to be on any bardic circle “greatest hits” list.

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Als I lay on Yoolis Night,
Alone in my longynge,
I thought I saw a well faire sight,
A maid hir child rockynge.

Lullaye, lullaye, lullaye, lullaye,
My dere moder, synge lullaye.

The maiden wolde withouten song,
Hir childe aslepe to brynge.
The Childe, he thought she did him wrong,
And bade his moder synge.

Lullaye, lullaye, lullaye, lullaye,
My dere moder, synge lullaye.

“Synge, now, Moder,” sayed the Childe,
“Of what shalle me befalle,
Hereafter, when i cum to eld,
For so don modres alle.”

Lullaye, lullaye, lullaye, lullaye,
My dear moder, synge lullaye.

“Ich moder truely,
That can hir cradle kepe,
Is won to lullen lovely
And singen hir childe aslepe.”

Lullaye, lullaye, lullaye, lullaye,
My dear moder, synge lullaye.

“Swete moder, faire and fre,
Sithen that it is so,
I pray thee that thou lullen me,
For so don modres alle.”

Lullaye, lullaye, lullaye, lullaye,
My dear moder, synge lullaye.

“Swete sonne,” sayed she,
“Whereof shoulde I synge?
Wist I never yet more of thee
But Gabriele’s gretynge.

Lullaye, lullaye, lullaye, lullaye,
My dear moder, synge lullaye.

"He grete me godely on his knee
And sayed, "Oh, hail Mary!
Hail, full of grace.  God is with thee,
And beren thou shalt Messye.”

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O Soul, go not to the West
Where level wastes of sand stretch on and on;
And demons rage, swine-headed, hairy-skinned,
With bulging eyes;
Who in wild laughter gnash projecting fangs.
O Soul, go not to the West
Where many perils wait!
O Soul, come back to idleness and peace.
In quietude enjoy
The lands of Jing and Chu.
There work your will and follow your desire
Till sorrow is forgot,
And carelessness shall bring you length of days.
O Soul, come back to joys beyond all telling!

Poem calling back the soul of the dead, 3rd century BC, from The Great Summons translated by Arthur Waley in Morris, I. (ed.), Madly Singing in the Mountains: An Appreciation and Anthology of Arthur Waley, Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1970.

Victoria and Albert Museum: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/burial-customs-china/

There’s at least one “ask” in my inbox – which I am researching, I promise! But in the meantime, have some cool poetry. 😀

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oAdd MS 35313, f. 158v, from the British Library, c. 1500.

The Three Living and the Three Dead, or the Three Dead Kings, is a poem dating back to the 13th century. It, or imagery from it, is often used to open the Office of the Dead in books of hours. Perhaps because medieval skellimans are pretty cool.

You can read the poem in Middle English, with footnotes.

You listen to the poem (after a longish intro).

You can read the British Library’s blogpost on the poem and the imagery in manuscripts.

Happy Fall!

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The everyday mind: that is the way.
Buried in vines and rock-bound caves,
Here it’s wild, here I am free,
Idling with the white clouds, my friends.
Tracks here never reach the world;
No-mind, so what can shift my thought?
I sit the night through on a bed of stone,
While the moon climbs Cold Mountain.
-Verse 23, Words from Cold Mountain, Han-Shan, 9th century

(This isn’t necessarily the verse in the painting – it’s just a verse I like.)

From Wikipedia: 

Hanshan (Chinese: 寒山; pinyin: Hánshān; literally: “Cold Mountain”, fl. 9th century) was a legendary figure associated with a collection of poems from the Chinese Tang Dynasty in the Taoist and Chan tradition. No one knows who he was, or when he lived and died.

You can read Words from Cold Mountain translated into English here: [Poetry in Translation]

There is also a graphic novel. 😀 [Find it in a library near you!][Painting: Hanshan and Shide (寒山拾得圖) Yintuoluo (因陀羅, late Yuan dynasty), Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)]

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The everyday mind: that is the way.
Buried in vines and rock-bound caves,
Here it’s wild, here I am free,
Idling with the white clouds, my friends.
Tracks here never reach the world;
No-mind, so what can shift my thought?
I sit the night through on a bed of stone,
While the moon climbs Cold Mountain.
-Verse 23, Words from Cold Mountain, Han-Shan, 9th century

(This isn’t necessarily the verse in the painting – it’s just a verse I like.)

From Wikipedia: 

Hanshan (Chinese: 寒山; pinyin: Hánshān; literally: “Cold Mountain”, fl. 9th century) was a legendary figure associated with a collection of poems from the Chinese Tang Dynasty in the Taoist and Chan tradition. No one knows who he was, or when he lived and died.

You can read Words from Cold Mountain translated into English here: [Poetry in Translation]

There is also a graphic novel. 😀 [Find it in a library near you!][Painting: Hanshan and Shide (寒山拾得圖) Yintuoluo (因陀羅, late Yuan dynasty), Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)]

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historical-nonfiction:

During the Chinese Tang dynasty, anyone with an education was expected to greet as well as say goodbye in poetic verse composed on the spot. This particular example is one of Li Bai’s (701-762), the most celebrated Tang Dynasty poet. It is a farewell poem written for the poet’s friend, the imperial librarian/proofreader, who climbed the Xie Tiaos Pavilion with Li Bai. In the verse, there is the feeling of being underappreciated by the official circle. He expresses his resentment for the darkness of society and longing for a brighter, more enlightened world (where he would be better appreciated, one assumes).

Random things I find when doing casual research.

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Hi there! I would like to learn how to craft a praise-poem in the style of the Irish bards. Do you have any suggestions for finding examples with as little Christianization as possible? My persona is 10th c., so anything that old or older would be helpful.

One of the ways we librarians answer questions is by finding people who know the answer. People are resources too! So this answer was brought to you by the letter P and Master Owen Alun and Brendan O’Corraidhe.

Websites

Overview of Irish Poetry: [Link]

Side-by-Side English/Gaelic of Pangur Ban (a cat poem): [Link]

More side-by-side early Irish poetry: [Link]

Brendan’s Link Library for Irish Poetry, etc.: [Link]

Brenden’s Handout and Lecture notes for his Irish Myth and Legend class
[Handout][Lecture Notes]

Brenden’s notes and Redaction of Pangur Ban: [Link]

Books

Silva Gadelica: A Collection of Tales in Irish With Extracts llustrating Persons and Places
by Srandish H O’Grady
Published 1892 (so take with salt)
Silva Gadelica is a collection of tales in Irish with extracts illustrating persons and places. In this edition, the English translations are to the front, while the Irish originals are at the back.O’Grady describes his work like a straw being tossed up to see how the wind blows. In other words, he was testing the judgment of those who urged for this book to be given a good reception. These popular English versions of the Irish tales earned him the title of “father of the Irish literary revival.”Standish Hayes O’Grady (1832 – 1915) learned Irish from the native speakers of his locality and was later educated at Rugby School and Trinity College Dublin. His profession was as a civil engineer, but he is best remembered for Silva Gadelica.After moving to America, he contributed to an essay on Anglo-Irish Aristocracy to a collection entitled Ideals in Ireland edited by Lady Augusta Gregory in 1901. O’Grady was unable to his finish his final work – Catalogue of the Irish Manuscripts in the British Museum – before his death, although it was later completed by Robin Flower.
[Archive.org][Forgotten Books]

Medieval Irish Lyrics with The Irish Bardic Poet
by James Carney

The text and translation of early Irish poems, both secular and religious. “"These translations…from the point of view of a telling economy and a regard for the original image, its absolute rightness, are far and away superior to anything else I have read”“ – Cork Examiner. ”“Carney has thrown light where there were shadows before, and for this he is, as scholar and poet, due our gratitude”“ – Dublin Magazine. Carney’s noted lecture `The Irish Bardic Poet’, is also included. 

Hope these help! Let me know if you need more, and I can see if I can get more out of Owen and Brenden, or put you in touch with them. 

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Twa Corbies, recorded by Cannach

Twa Corbies (or Two Ravens) is a traditional Scottish/English folk song. It was first collected and published in 1611 by Thomas Ravenscroft (tell me that isn’t just fun, name-wise), in his collection Melismata. It is recorded as Child Ballad #26.

International Music Source Library Project’s Entry (includes PDF sheet music): [Link]

There is a “happier” version of the song, but I like the cynical one better.

Lyrics:

As I was walking a’ alane,
I heard twa corbies makin’ a mane.
The tane untae the tither did say,
Whaur sail we gang and dine the day, O.
Whaur sail we gang and dine the day?

It’s in ahint yon auld fail dyke
I wot there lies a new slain knight;
And naebody kens that he lies there
But his hawk and his hound, and his lady fair, O.
But his hawk and his hound, and his lady fair.

His hound is to the hunting gane
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady ta’en anither mate,
So we may mak’ our dinner swate, O.
So we may mak’ our dinner swate.

Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I’ll pike oot his bonny blue e’en
Wi’ ae lock o’ his gowden hair
We’ll theek oor nest when it grows bare, O.

We’ll theek oor nest when it grows bare.
There’s mony a ane for him maks mane
But nane sail ken whaur he is gane
O’er his white banes when they are bare
The wind sail blaw for evermair, O.
The wind sail blaw for evermair.

Happy October!

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