On Not Using “Bardic Arts” as a Name for Performing Arts

~Given the ample discussion I’ve witnessed and participated in over the years in the SCA, I have come to the following “manifesto” regarding the “Bardic Arts” and the “Performing Arts.”  I wrote it to clarify my own thoughts, but decided that I would be public in my personal statements of belief.~
Aneleda’s Personal Manifesto on the Performing and Bardic Arts and Terms Used Therein

I believe that performances born from authentic works from actual periods has intrinsic and historic value and should be encouraged.

I believe that period work remains relevant, as do all “timeless” things, and that the creation and recreation of that work should be valued and shared.

I believe that study and performance of period works is useful and creation of works which are inspired by or in the style of early works is an essential part of learning. (As modern painters learn by copying the works of early masters, so to is there value in modern artists of all kinds, including performers, “copying” earlier works to better understand their own gifts.)

I believe that creation of new works in a researched period style and reproduction of works in a period style are of value to the A&S community, and a focus in those areas are things which rightly grow beside the Path to High Arts.

I believe that many modern people in this game deserve (and desire) to have music that is new and reflective of their love of the SCA and how they play within the Society.

I believe that music that is new and in the style of our traditional modern ballads has intrinsic value as both art and as a chronicle of deeds and events in the Society.

I believe the act of documenting the history of the SCA in a modern way – including in story and song – is an art which grows beside the Service Path, as it is a valid art rooted in celebrating our subculture and brings us together as a Society rather than celebrating the arts of the past.

I believe that “Bards” are the emotional chroniclers of the Society.

I believe that “Bard” could be a deed name or title given to a particular kind of performer by people who are not that performer. (As in “You are not a bard until someone calls you a bard.”)

I believe that use of that term “bard” ought to be discouraged within the performing community as a catch-all.

I believe that use of the term “bardic arts” should be discouraged unless it is specifically relating to original or semi-original performance works of the modern middle ages which relate in some way to or are inspired by experiences in the Society for Creative Anachronism.

I believe that “SCA Folk Music or Music” of the “Modern Middle Ages” present a clearer view of what those often known as “bards” do as their art and service in the Society, though those terms are still insufficient.

I believe a performer may style herself as a particular kind of performer – a joungleur, a troubadour, a minnesinger ,a trouvere, a minstrel, a mummer, a skald, a poet, an actor, a mime, a fool, or simply a performer and she should use her self-descriptor often.

I believe that the term “performing arts” should be encouraged, and with it the appropriate names for other activities – Mumming, Theatre, Commedia, Music, Dance, etc.

For me, I will cease using bardic as a catch-all. It is not appropriate for the majority of things and it’s only barely appropriate for even the narrow definition that I allow it myself.

I will have performing circles or sharing circles. I will have fires – but unless we are burning actual bards – not bardic fires. I will host evenings of music and story but not “bardic” night that more people may feel included and able to share their performances.

I will make this change myself and aspire to serve as an example of what I think is a better way to serve all performing artists.

– A


The term “bardic arts” is a long-held term in the SCA which attempts to describe what the “bard” does. It is meant to describe a variety of vocal performances inspired by the view of the medieval minstrel of the hall. It has come to include nearly all arts which involve singing or speaking  or storytelling in some way for an audience. It is sometimes thought to also include “any art that tells a story” in a physical way. A well respected luminary is noted to say, ‘if your performance tells a story then it’s bard enough for me.’

It’s also a term which is either loved or loathed. To some, being called a bard can be either a bitter insult or the highest praise. Many performers who do things we lump into the “bardic arts” openly say things like, “I’m a minstrel, not a bard.” It also, despite our “bard enough for me” attempts at inclusion, seems to spiritually exclude different kinds of non-vocal storytelling and it’s honestly a harder fit for dancers, mummers, and instrumentalists, and writers who don’t perform as well.

I’ve come to conclude that the “bardic community” is ill-served the the term. It seems to cause division based on the following sets of issues: period vs modern style performance; original vs existing period lyrics and music; attachment to different musical styles and languages; desire vs disregard for documentation; musician vs solo vocal performers; scholars vs hobbyist; persona-driven SCA experience vs non-persona-driven SCA experiences; and more…

In addition, the “bardic arts” are complicated in terms of their recognition at a Kingdom and Society level. Many “bards” can feel unrecognized even though their works are incredibly popular. Those who are scholarly and less popular may rise through the SCA award system. As an example, Lady Warren writes songs about the SCA in a modern way and sings them to the great pleasure and acclaim of her friends, audiences, and royalty. She may have a couple of CDs which sell well. People can sing her songs. That seems very successful. However, if she does not do scholarly work as well, she will not be recognized in the structure of the SCA.  Lord Witten sings only songs from the time of his persona. He can tell you about the chords, and the styles, and has written a few pieces in the same style as his ancient mentors. He’s a decent performer, but not someone who has recordings or popular praise. Both Lord Witten and Lady Warren are in the “bardic arts” category but they are not similar in any way. Lord Witten may be recognized with awards in spite of his audience’s tepid applause because he’s a scholar-performer while the popular Lady Warrren may have great praise from her audience, she does things in a modern way and does not fulfill the criteria for consideration for SCA awards. Putting them in the same “category” does each of them a disservice for now they will be spiritually comparing each other’s gifts – which are apples and oranges – of equal value in the Society to different people for different reasons. 

It is only fair to give them each a place where their gifts name them more than one where they are shoehorned into an ill-fitting theme which has little actual relevance to either of their performance styles.

Some “bards” do both well – period music recreation/reproduction and new music which has the soul of the SCA as its lead. They are luminaries and are very seldom simply “bards.” “Bardic” is generally but one part of what they do exceptionally well, but it’s often the most public face of their other talents. I know those who are recognized for their poetry, music writing, and research into stories of the past who were recognized for those things but their prominence as performers causes the gifts for which they were recognized – their scholar work – to be eclipsed by their own brightness. These folk are “bard-and-_____” people. Period work/research must be done (and documented) to achieve some kinds of recognition, as with all arts and sciences in the SCA.

This loose naming of the “bardic arts” also hinders our recognition of artists for what they have been truly respected for doing to achieve that recognition. I would rather see skalds, musicians, pipers, actors, fools, and others be so recognized – better that than a “bard” which is near meaningless in our use of it.

This recognition issue also seems to cause a lot of other issues regarding what we see as valued in the Society- for art and performance art in particular. Should performances be more period and scholarly? Should they reflect the modern chronicles of the SCA? Should we play only in persona? Should we be fine with a persona that is simply part of the subculture? Can there be a balance? Where is that balance?

Given the ample discussion I’ve witnessed and participated in over the years, I have come to the following “manifesto” regarding the “Bardic Arts” and the “Performing Arts.” We are all easily seen and understood as “Performing Artists” regardless of our style of performance. There is no shoe-horn or mallet needed to squeeze people into places they barely fit. The term is broadly inclusive, immediately recognizable, and lets folk name themselves within that in a way that suits them best.

I make this change for me, but also because I believe it is healthier for our community to change that we may stop fighting over what is and isn’t included in this or that, but rather that we can celebrate our differences and similarities in a more respectful manner.

I wrote it to clarify my own thoughts, but decided that I would be public in my personal statements of belief.

– Aneleda

OTHER TERMS FOR BARD (in addition to musician, dancers, mummers, et al…)
bard synonyms and related words:
Meistersinger, Parnassian, arch-poet, ashik, ballad maker, ballad singer, balladeer, balladmonger, bucoliast, elegist, epic poet, fili, folk singer, gleeman, griot, idyllist, imagist, jongleur, laureate, librettist, major poet, maker, minnesinger, minor poet, minstrel, modernist, muse, occasional poet, odist, pastoral poet, pastoralist, poet, poet laureate, poetress, rhapsode, rhapsodist, satirist, scop, serenader, skald, sonneteer, street singer, strolling minstrel, symbolist, troubadour, trouveur, trovatore, udgatar, vers libriste, vers-librist, wait, wandering minstrel…

Or, as would be accurate for me, dilettante – an admirer or lover of the arts or one having a surface-level interest in an art or branch of knowledge, a dabbler.