Blog: SCA

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Choral part-balancing

Overheard at last night's choir party:

Director: ...And I told (another choir's director) that we have five tenors now and quite a few basses too, and she was blown away. [Context: for whatever reason, SCA choirs and maybe amateur choirs in general have a lot of trouble getting enough tenors. Our choir has about 25 members and five tenors is considered very good.]

Transgender tenor: Some of our tenors used to be sopranos.1 She could suggest...

Other choir member: In the Debatable Choir we make tenors!

1 Two, in fact. There is also a woman in the bass section (who hasn't undergone physical changes thus far).

Pennsic photos (mostly of the kitchen)

Last year I posted pictures of our new kitchen trailer, but (1) I failed to take interior pictures at Pennsic and (2) we've made some improvements in the last year. So here are some more pictures from this year.

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Pennsic short takes

Brief Pennsic notes in the form of pluses and minuses:

  • Debatable Choir concert went very well! I hope I get to hear a recording (or, better, watch a video.) One person who doesn't usually comment on our performances described our last song (Ecce Quomodo) as "exquisite".

  • Despite a sudden attack of Pennsic crud causing a coughing fit.

  • Saw two fun commedia shows. (Would have been more if not for dinner conflicts, ouch.)

  • Cooking dinner on the night of both the Pensnic Choir concert and the commedia all-stars show was not, in retrospect, a good idea.

  • But it was a very nice dinner, if I do say so myself. (Teriyaki salmon; teriyaki tofu with snow peas, carrots, and ginger; stir-fried vegetables in a red chili sauce; white rice; fruit for dessert. No meat, no gluten, and everything except the salmon was vegan.)

  • Many improvements to our kitchen! (I need to organize pictures for a separate post.)

  • Not too much rain, though what did fall led to instant large mud puddles in the roads because the ground is saturated.

  • Our block really came together to work through land problems -- swampy patches and two drainage ditches made parts of the block uncampable.

? Being on the corner was good for middle-of-the-night privy access and bad for noise.

  • We doubled our solar power this year. We can now charge not only phones but the electric scooters of the two camp members who require them and one other camp member's CPAP machine. (Not all at once and only during the day.)

+/- I got to see some friends but missed others.

  • Nice arts & sciences exhibit, including someone who wrote (calligraphed and illuminated) a book of Tehillim (Psalms).

  • After the Coopers declined again to tow my house-trailer, the person who towed the kitchen for us agreed to do so, saving us a bunch of money.

--- Toward the end of Pennsic I got email from the Coopers (the first written communication I've received from them about any aspect of my trailer). It contained an eviction notice. I am very frustrated; all this time, the (verbal) discussions with them have been about them (not) towing it, and now they're saying they don't want to have any oversized trailers on their property at all. I wish I'd known that earlier!! I'll probably write more about this separately. Meanwhile, I can keep it through Pennsic 50 (two more years) and then it has to be gone. :-(

More on that last point from comments: Read more…

[SCA] Interesting times -- more of them than there used to be

When I joined the SCA, it was a group dedicated to studying the middle ages and renaissance. Unofficially, the scope was described as "western Europe from the fall of Rome through the 16th century" -- which yeah, I know, is temporally broad. Geographically it wasn't broad enough; people in the SCA wanted to create personas from outside western Europe. The governing documents said something like "pre-17th-century western Europe and cultures that had contact with it". People used that last clause to easily argue for middle-eastern and Mongol personas, and less-easily to argue for Japanese, Chinese, and others. There's one person who does an Aztec persona and that raised some eyebrows. And notice that there's no beginning date there, which a few people have used to justify ancient-world personas. Personally I'm a live-and-let-live sort; I think a few of these are rather far from the clear intent of this organization dedicated to the middle ages and renaissance, but we each play the game differently so, eh, different strokes. (There's maybe a problem when people resort to rules-lawyering this stuff, but that's a tangent for another time.) Apparently in some places it hasn't been so benign, though; some people have gotten very hostile toward people doing these far-from-Europe personas.

The SCA board just put out a new mission statement. It now reads:

The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) is an international non-profit volunteer educational organization. The SCA is devoted to the research and re-creation of pre-seventeenth century skills, arts, combat, culture, and employing knowledge of history to enrich the lives of participants through events, demonstrations, and other educational presentations and activities.

(Yeah, the board should really run these things past somebody fluent in written English. But I digress.)

By this new policy, there are no geographic restrictions. And, as before, no early temporal restrictions. Non-European personas are no longer "those other areas we tolerate" but are granted first-class status. The SCA is now a general-purpose historical organization (still pre-17th-century).

I'm of mixed feelings. On the one hand, people were already doing it and there's a lot of support and the world didn't end. It doesn't hurt me if other people's interests are in different locales. On the other hand, from the time I first saw people in armor fighting with swords and shields on the university lawn and said "I've gotta get me some of that", the SCA was at its core about the age of knights and kings and queens, of Vikings and Agincourt and the black death, of Chaucer and sonnets and eddas, of motets and balli and shawms. In the years since I joined my personal interests have broadened and changed; my persona is in Cordova under caliphate rule, not exactly knights and high middle ages either. Medieval, though.

I think, when talking with outsiders, I'm still going to describe the SCA as being for studying the middle ages and renaissance, which automatically implies Europe. (Everybody had a 12th century, but I don't think it makes sense to talk about "medieval Inuit" or "medieval Chinese" or the like.) That's still how I think about it, even if the reality is different.

Pennsic: new kitchen trailer

Here are a few photos (from Pennsic) of our new kitchen. We brought it back to Pittsburgh to continue to improve it.

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Making progress on the Pennsic kitchen trailer

It's been a while since I've given an update on our Pennsic project. The exterior is mostly done (just some small touch-ups left), and the interior has insulation, flooring, walls, cabinets, and -- today -- shelves. The electrical panel is complete (lights aren't in yet, but soon) and plumbing is in progress. Things are looking good!

Pictures: Read more…

[SCA] kitchen trailer

My Pennsic camp, Polyhymnia, is working on a new kitchen trailer. Today we got almost all of the exterior sheathing in place. (We did about half of it today; the other half was done on Saturday, though not by me.)


inside, with roof over ribs

exterior front, two people on scaffolding working on roof edge

In case you're wondering about access: we'll have a little porch over the trailer hitch to get to the door you can see, and there's another door on the other side. The side with the two arched windows faces the road; the side with one window and a door faces the camp interior.

Pennsic 46

I'm home from Pennsic. Brief notes in the form of bullet points:

  • My good friend Yaakov HaMizrachi was elevated to the Order of the Laurel! Yay! The Laurel is the SCA's highest award (peerage) for arts and sciences. He's also now known (additionally) as Yaakov HaMagid, Yaakov the Storyteller. The ceremony felt like a reunion of old friends, and it was a nice touch that they had his son chant the scroll (in Hebrew).

  • The part of Atlantian court that I attended (because of the previous) was very well-done and engaging. I don't live there, I don't know most of those people, and yet I was not bored. They moved things along without it feeling rushed, and everybody speaking from the stage could be heard clearly. They also mixed it up, instead of doing all recipients of one award and then moving on to the next. Sprinkling the peerages throughout the court works well and, really, it's not a big deal for order members to get up more than once in an evening. (Also, if peerage ceremonies are burdensomely long -- theirs weren't; ours sometimes are -- it's nice to be able to sit down between them.)

  • I don't think I've ever heard "we're ahead of schedule; let's take a 10-minute break" in the middle of court before, though. I wonder if someone on the stage had an urgent need?

  • They elevated another bard to the Laurel, and that one sang his oath of fealty. While he was doing so I wondered if the king would respond in song -- and he did. That he used the same melody suggests some advance coordination (beyond "we're singing"), I wonder which of them wrote the king's words.

  • I had long, enjoyable conversations with both Yaakov and Baron Steffan. I miss the deep email conversations I used to have with both of them, before the great fragmenting of the digital-communication world (some to email, some to blogs/LJ/DW, some to Facebook, some to Google+, some to Twitter, some to places I don't even know about). It's harder to track and stay in touch with people than it used to be.

  • No I am still not going to start using Facebook. It's frustrating that by declining to do so I miss more and more stuff, but I'm not ready to let yet another thing compete to be the center of my online life. Also, Facebook in particular is icky in some important ways.

  • SCA local group, that means you too. Plans for a baronial party at Pennsic were, as far as I can tell, announced only on Facebook. (I've checked my email back to the beginning of April, so no I didn't just forget.) And thus I did not bring a contribution for your pot-luck. I do not feel guilty about that.

  • The Debatable Choir performance went very well. I conducted a quartet singing Sicut Cervus (by Palestrina), which I think went well. Two of the four singers had not previously done a "one voice to a part" song with the choir, and I'm proud of them for stepping up and doing a great job. I hope we got a recording.

  • I went to a fascinating class on medieval Jewish astrology (taught by Yaakov in persona). I've seen zodiacs in ancient (and modern) Jewish art and in synagogues, and a part of me always wondered how this isn't forbidden. It turns out that astrology is more of an "inclination", a yetzer, than a hard-and-fast truth -- there are stories in the talmud where astrology predicted something bad but the person, through good deeds, avoided the bad outcome. Also, in case you're wondering (like I did, so I asked), the zodiac signs get some solar smoothing, so if there's a leap-month (Adar Bet) there's not a 13th sign in those years.

  • Our camp has two wooden buildings (besides the house on the trailer, I mean), which we wanted to sell this year because we're making a new kitchen trailer that will replace both of them. We succeeded in selling the larger one (yay!). Maybe we'll be able to sell the other next year. (We'll set it up and use it for something else, because potential buyers would want to see it set up.)

  • Overall the weather was good. There were big storms on the first Friday ("quick, grab snacks and alcohol and head for the house!" is our camp's rallying cry), but only occasional rain after that and it wasn't sweltering-hot, which makes a huge difference.

  • The last headcount I saw was around 10,500.

Oh, *you*

Our camp's Pennsic prep is a little unusual:

Me: dials phone
Her: Castle Towing1
Me: Hi. I'm going to need some towing at Cooper's Lake this weekend. Can I book that in advance?
Her: Oh you don't need to. We offer 24x7 road service; you can just call.
Me: It's a 20' trailer. Probably 3-ton, but we don't really know.
Her: ... oh. Uh, I don't know if we can do that.
Me: For what it's worth, you did it two years ago. That's why I specifically called you. But I understand things can change.
Her: I need to check with a driver. I'll call you back.

Return call:
Her: He remembers you. When did you say you need him?

With luck, this will be the last year we have to do our own towing for the house. The Coopers declared it too heavy for them to tow a couple years ago. A lot of what makes it too heavy is the kitchen structure and furniture we store in it. We are well under way with building a new kitchen trailer, which will replace most of that and store the rest between Pennsics. And that will make the house light enough that the Coopers should be willing to tow it to and from our campsite like they had done for years before the new rules. And hey, kitchen trailer instead of having to build and take down our current structure every year.

1 Yes, that really is their name, and yes they're familiar with the Pennsic site.

Social dancing and rejection

A person who attends a weekly dance felt the group was becoming cliquish. In particular, this person would invite someone to dance, the person would decline (which the poster had no problem with), and then the person would dance the dance with someone else. The poster felt snubbed, said this happens more often than it used to, and wanted to know how to fix it.

I answered:

I used to be part of a weekly open dance group (renaissance dance). Two factors that were challenging for us were:

  1. Some people were there to dance; others were there to socialize.

  2. Among the people who were there to dance, some were there to "up their game" and some didn't care if things went wrong so long as people seemed to be having fun.

Dance involves other people -- at least a partner, but sometimes a set. If you're an experienced dancer who's focusing on dancing well, you might be frustrated if half the people in your set don't really know the dance and aren't in the right place at the right time (so the figure doesn't work). You might also find it not very much fun to have to guide your partner through the dance. I'm not saying any of this is right or wrong; I'm just saying that it happens. We saw it too. So if the person you're asking is much more advanced than you and is taking a more focused approach, and that person knows about the imbalance between the two of you, that person might decline your invitation.

The answer isn't to enforce an "everyone dances with everybody else" rule with dance cards to keep track and stuff. The answer is to find ways to help everybody meet their needs while encouraging a more open attitude. Here are some things we did: Read more…