June's Flamebearer Article
Last month we looked at the idea of familiarization as the road to memorization. And, it really does hold true. I have experienced the horror of losing your place mid-piece on both sides of the performance. But, I have also seen bards that know their piece well enough that the audience never notices when they skip a verse – because the bard never indicates that anything is amiss. It happens to us all, and proper preparation is your best defense.
We have discussed submerging yourself in your piece – keeping a copy on you at all times, going over it in your spare time, etc. Study, preparation, and practice are important. But, singing in the shower (though it may entertain the neighbors) is never going to prepare you for performance. It is nothing short of trial by fire. You never know how a piece is going to do until you put it on its feet in front of an audience.
This is a vital step in preparation of your piece. Performing for at least a select and trusted audience gives you a chance to get feedback. When I teach classes to young bards, I tell them (in all seriousness) to perform for their parents, their friends, for anyone who will stand still long enough – and then gauge their reaction and ask their opinion.
I would like to make a slight detour here to talk about feedback and criticism. It is very important, when you are performing any piece (new or otherwise), that you pay attention to your audience’s reaction. There are many ways they have of offering feedback, ranging from applause to largesse. But, particularly when you are still working on a piece, you may want to ask a few of them what they think. Other bards are an excellent resource for this. Now, there are two types of criticism: CONSTRUCTIVE criticism gives you something that you can do to improve your performance and warrants your consideration, while DESTRUCTIVE criticism does nothing of the kind and should be ignored completely. By the same token, we as a bardic community need to get in the habit of being able to offer supportive and constructive criticism when asked – particularly when it is coming from a new bard. We need to be conscious of what we are saying and how we are saying it. Our experience genuinely offered can help some one new to this craft fall in love with it as much as we have, but a dismissive or canned response can turn some one away permanently. If you are unsure of how to do this, go to some of the bards you respect and ask them about watching a performance with a critical eye.
This is where it is useful to have a "bard buddy": another bard whose opinion you trust that you can work with to improve your respective performances. I cannot emphasize how helpful bard buddies can be. You can help each other find material, especially if each of you knows the type of piece the other is looking for. They can help you run lines, work on presentation, iron out tough spots in a piece, offer an honest opinion, and make practical suggestions. Two people working together is a great (and fun way) to prepare for a competition. The competition itself is more enjoyable when you can root for each other, and can help evaluate your performance under pressure. And, a bard buddy is sometimes perfect to huddle up with you, some junk food, and a bad horror movie when you need some one to pick up your spirits. (I know all of these things from personal experience. *grin*)
With summer here and the event season now in full swing, performance opportunities abound. So, get out there and take advantage of them – and not just your own performances. Sit back and enjoy the performances of others. Pay attention to what they do and how they do it. Question yourself for the effectiveness of the performance choices they make. (Do not be rude and offer an uninvited appraisal of their performance.) Take notes while watching a competition (even if you are not competing). Keep an eye out for pieces you would like to perform, and ask about them. There is a goldmine of opportunity out there for the bard with a watchful eye.
In bardic news, the Barony of Northkeep is selecting both their adult and youth title bards this month at their Castellan. These are in addition to their first ever Youth Boffer Champion, Children’s Castilan, Youth A&S and more, which promises to be quite interesting. Any questions, comments, etc are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember to make a joyful noise unto your kingdom!