Greetings and salutations to my brothers and sisters, from Christian
d'Hiver, your servant.
It is within a span of only a few weeks that our kingdom will come
together once more to celebrate our achievements in the arts and
sciences. And I thought this might be a good time to restate some of
the lessons I've learned over the years, as both an entrant and judge.
There are some folks who enter an A&S competition without having read
the criteria. That makes as much sense to me as a bunch of athletes
suiting up for a football game, never having read the rulebook; or an
academic student digging into a term paper without reading the
assignment. The judges are going to have two documents in front of
them: the criteria for the particular category you've entered, and
your project's documentation. It is in your interest to make sure
that the two are aligned as well as you can manage. If the criteria
talk about particulars of methods or materials, make sure your
documentation matches those questions.
There are many reasons that people enter an A&S competition. Some
people want to get their name known around the kingdom as an artist in
a particular field. Others want to meet judges and other experts in
the field, get suggestions, and have great conversations during the
day. Other people want to score high against the criteria scoring
rubric. All of these are legitimate goals! But I've seen a lot of
people who enter, initially, to get feedback or to meet people, or
what-you-please, and then get judged. And, at the moment they get
their sheet, with all the numbers on it, they forget why they're
there, and the purpose of their entry suddenly changes to "score
high". And this happens particularly when they don't happen to score
So, Christian's First Rule of A&S: “Don’t get upset when you don’t win
races you never entered”.
Christian's Corollary to the First Rule: "If you've set your goal to
be “Score high”, then design a project that’s ambitious, cool, and
easy to document."
You'll note that the corollary presumes that you make your decision
about your goals very early in the project's development. My second
word of advice: read the criteria, THEN determine your goals, and ONLY
AFTER THAT decide on your project. I have seen many entrants attempt
to cobble together documentation for a project that they've already
completed, that was never intended to be an A&S competition entry, and
there's often a bit of shoe-horning involved. It goes back to that
metaphor of writing an academic paper before reading the assignment.
If you're prepared early on in the process, then you can document
everything. What you research. What your pre-1600 exemplar work is
supposed to be like. Why your entry is cool. And particularly, why
your entry is different from your period examples.
Now, all of this advice so far applies to all the arts & sciences. At
this point, I want to get specific and talk about performing entries.
It's tricky, documenting a performance entry, because a good
performance hides all the work. A good performer makes things look
easy. And documentation is all about showing all the work: laying out
all the decisions, the revisions that came about during practices, the
techniques that we suddenly realized we'd need, the false starts, the
dead ends, the research and inspiration.
But the Golden Rule of Documentation still applies: Explain what
people did in our target period culture, explain what we did, and
explain any differences. "In 14th Century, the musicians of the Duc de
Berry performed this piece in this way, and here's how we know. I'm
going to perform it this way, with these techniques. Here's why."
Now, I've entered Big Deal A&S competitions in three kingdoms, and
judged in two others, and the common temptation among performance
entrants has been to document everything but the performance itself. I
remember someone who entered a monologue from the play “Richard III”.
This entrant documented Shakespeare, the Globe theatre, the text of
the play, the role of theatre in Elizabethan society, the differences
between the folio and quarto editions ... but never talked about the
performance. You know, the actual entry.
Was he supposed to be presenting an outtake from a performance of the
full play, or a private reading of a monologue as if it were poetry?
(Did anybody in period ever give private performances of monologues
from plays?) What decisions did the entrant make regarding tempo?
Diction? Dynamics? Staging? What decisions did Elizabethan actors
make? The documentation didn't say. That was a hard entry to judge.
In another kingdom, a husband and wife entered a flute / hurdy-gurdy
duet. The documentation detailed the historicity of flutes,
hurdy-gurdies, hurdy-gurdy technique, the sheet music source, the
culture of Spain at the time, the costumes they were wearing, and so
on. But the entry was in the Wind Instrumental Music category, and
the performance the judges had been tasked to critique was the lady's
flute playing, which the documentation never addressed at all. That
was another hard entry to judge.
On the other hand, and my apologies if I embarrass her, Her Ladyship
Kasha has written consistently fantastic documentation: her music
composition entry from Queen's Prize a couple years ago had every
aspect of 14th Century Motet composition detailed: voice leading, text
underlay, rhythmic modes, the whole nine yards; and then spoke about
how she emulated those models with her work. "What they did; what I
did; why." Presto. Likewise, her more recent entry, a vocal
performance, covered all aspects of singing technique, and why her
choices were appropriate to the piece,the setting, and the
hypothetical Renaissance audience.
So, if you're performing a piece and find that your documentation is
talking a lot about the historical context of the galliard, or the
roots of the formes fixee movement, or the number of plays performed
each year in the York Mystery cycle, check to see if you're still
discussing your entry. You need to spend a little bit of time assuring
your judges that the piece you're playing, or the poem you're
reciting, is authentic. But that should only take a paragraph. Spend
the rest of the time talking about what you're doing! After you've
finished writing your documentation, go back and double check the
criteria: will your documentation allow a judge to see your tools and
techniques, understand the reasons behind your decisions?
Good luck. Do terrific work. Have fun. Make it look easy. And don't
forget to show us why it's not.
music guy, Shadowdale