0. The Charter in a Nutshell

Why this page?
The Charter of the Minstrel's Guild is rather old and rather long. The following is, in a nutshell, the speech I give to people who want to know what it's all about. It contains the changes made to the Charter at Bard's Night II in Dreieichen, but is compiled solely from memory and contains opinion. If you disagree or if you find mistakes here, please tell me.


Topics relevant to the guild

  • Singing
  • Storytelling
  • Playing an instrument
  • Writing music
  • Writing stories
  • Building instruments
  • Research
Performance should be done in front of an audience. You should make a reasonable attempt to have it look and sound medieval or renaissance. (Except when doing research. You can use a typewriter or even a philosopher's engine for that...)

When referring to the whole of these topics, the term commonly used is 'Bardic Arts'.


On ranks and gaining them
There are four ranks in the Guild, which hopefully correspond to levels of skill. The rank a member of the Guild holds is shown in the number and type of coloured ribbons he or she is wearing.

These ranks are:

  • Member: To become a member, tell one of the Guild officers that you want to join. Pay your membership fee if there happens to be one. To show your membership, wear a single white ribbon.
  • Novice: A novice has proven that he or she has some basic skill in one of the Bardic Arts.
    To become a novice, you have to present something that fits under one of the aformentioned topics (tell a story, sing a song, write some lyrics etc.) and have a journeyperson or minstrel listen. As a novice you wear a white and a black ribbon. (Right. You can keep all the ribbons you got before.)
  • Journeyman or Journeywoman: Traditionally a Journeyperson is someone who's competent enough to work without needing the supervision of a master. For a musician or storyteller that means to be able to present something to an audience that they enjoy hearing/seeing and to do so in a way that catches their interest.
    To become a Journeyperson, you need to get a minstrel and an audience and show some skill in three of the topics on the list, or you decide to do something good in one of the topics and something decent in another.
    Journeypersons wear three ribbons: white, black and red, and can hand out black ones (thus making someone Novice).
  • Minstrel: A minstrel should be competent enough in at least one of the bardic arts to teach, and well-versed in most others.
    To become a minstrel, you need an event with all the minstrels you can get, and a patient audience, because you have to show that you're good in four of the seven topics and brilliant in a fifth (your masterpiece). If you do not manage to get five topics covered, you can manage with two good plus two brilliant. So, yes, if you suffer from severe stage fright you can now become a minstrel without performing.
    Minstrels wear all three ribbons like a Journeyperson, plus a wooden pendant of a lyre. They also should carry lots of multicoloured ribbons in their pockets to hand out to new members, novices or journeypersons.


What does she mean with 'good'?
In the paragraphs above I speak of 'basic', 'decent', 'good' and 'brilliant'. What does that mean?

'Basic' means, an easy thing done without major fumbles. Sing an easy song without hurting someone's ears, tell an anecdote, write some verses to an existing melody, write an excerpt of an article on some medieval music subject.

'Decent' means putting some talent or effort in what you are doing. Sing a song that is not too-well-known and sounds rather medieval, tell a fairy-tale, write a research paper that tells people who are not experts on the subject something new.
A 'decent' performance should capture the attention of a bardic circle.

'Good' means putting talent and effort in what you are doing. Write a song with harmonies or an easy choir piece, sing something that most people have never heard and couldn't sing if they had, do a research paper fitting for the first year at university.
If you can keep the audience's attention for more than two minutes, you're probably good. 'Good' work is what you'd expect in an A&S contest.

'Brilliant' means to have people coming back for more. Since you never know that before it happens, you can settle for doing something complex, free of visible flaws and well documentated.
A brilliant performance in a feast hall makes people stop chewing during the first remove. Don't try this at home - the phone will ring at the most inopportune moment.


Officers in the Minstrel's Guild
The officers of the guild are:

  • Exchequer, who handles financial matters should there be any.
  • Chronicler, who publishes the newsletter.
    and
  • Guildmaster or -mistress, who does everything else.
I'm not quite clear about whether only Minstrels may vote people into these offices, or Minstrels and Journeypersons or all members. I would be too happy if someone would enlighten me.

The guildmaster or -mistress has to be a Journeyperson or Minstrel. There seems to be a curse on the Minstrels, or at least on the guildmaster/mistress, these people tend to disappear from the SCA like snow in springtime. I'll let you know if I feel myself disappearing.


On filk, autenthicity and the lack thereof
This paragraph is included solely to confess that I only have a very vague idea of what filk is and isn't. Sure, 'Blood For Odin' is filk. So is 'My Lady Is Fighting At Pennsic'. But what about 'Raven Banner' or the 'Shield Wall Song'? Or a song like the 'Flandrischer Totentanz', which is quite commonly mistaken for period? What about all those Zillions of Pop songs which use medieval themes or elements? Or about stories like 'The Knight and the Robber', which is an SCA Classic but can be told in perfectly mediaval style by changing a few words?

Personally, I'd go for a 'reasonable attempt' here. If it is in medieval style and conveys the right atmosphere I don't mind when it was written. (Though I'd still want to know. That's what documentation is for.)

Filking is a perfectly period activity.
"Apart from their satirical attitude towards ecclesiastical life, the goliards showed their free and at times heretical views in their parodies of religious hymns, their irreverence in adapting ecclesiastical melodies to secular texts, and their use of metaphors and expressions from church hymns in their loose verses."
- from the Catholic Encyclopedia, Online Edition Copyright 1999 by Kevin Knight, on the matter of goliardic song in the 11th century.

As with cooking, the secret lies in the ingredients...


Do you give out ribbons for good performances?
No, I don't. The reasons for that are the following.

First, I do not consider it polite to shove anything at anyone, be it swordspoints, chocolate chip cookies, work or ribbons.

Second, membership in a guild is not a prize to be handed out, but a decision a person makes. Do I want to join a guild? Do I want to carry the responsibility of a rank? Do I see myself/my persona as a musician?

There are people in the SCA who sing a whole lot better than I do, play loads of instruments, are professional storytellers. Shall I make them Minstrels and tell them, you have to take students now, judge performances, vote in guild matters and pay membership fees? Definitely not.

So, if you want to become a member of the guild, or if you want to apply for guild rank, please tell me or Lady Valeria. If you don't, we might ask you. But probably we won't.


Is 'minstrel' a 'protected word' in Drachenwald?
No. Reasons are coming soon.


Where do I put the apostrophe?
To paraphrase the words of Ld. Aethstan, a 'professional Englishman':
It's not one minstrel's guild, but it belongs to several. So 'minstrels' is plural, and the apostrophe belongs after the s, making it a "Minstrels's Guild" and a "Bards' Night".

Posted by Jehan de Lorraine at December 15, 2003 10:42 PM