Monday, August 23, 2010

Unapologetic Off-topic Post

Okay, as much as I really do want to keep this blog on topic (or at least SCA related), I guess there really is an exception to every rule. If you can watch the following video without crying tears of joy, than you are a stronger person than me ten fold. And if you can watch this without smiling, than you must have a heart of stone.

Presented here for no other reason that to make people feel good, even if only for a few minutes out of the day.

God Bless.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Two way Street

As much as I talk about the artistic, and historical sides of heraldry, there is, without a doubt, a functional element to it as well.

What I want to talk about here for a minute is how a herald can carry information towards the event stewards, as well as towards the attendees.

Now, there is absolutely no question that the site herald's primary roll at an event is to broadcast information to the attendees on site. However, a Herald is also one of the most well traveled members of the event staff, and will likely see more of the attendees more often than the Steward or any of their deputies. A good herald, and by extension, a good event steward, should take advantage of this mechanism. People in charge of activities, merchants, taverns, feast stewards and nobles can all make good use of the site herald as a mechanism for both direct messages to certain staff members, and news from the event.

Site heralds are in an excellent position to note how things are going, what activity might need something, or where people are and are not congregated. They don't necissarily need to memorize any of this, and they don't need to really know all of reasons this information is accurate. However, if the Steward needs to know if people are parking off of the road or in the middle of it, they should probably ask the herald when they see him, rather than send someone specifically to look (unless the information is time-critical, of course). That way they don't use a resource they don't have to, and the herald is in an excellent position to carry an instruction or announcement back to the location in question.

I know this sounds like common sense, and in a lot of ways it is. However, more often than not (at least in the north) I don't see it being put to use. Heralds tend to operate outside the decision making loop, and they do so while stewards, cooks and marshals pull their hair out trying to answer questions or pass word along to each other. Its not a doom and gloom situation, by any means, and most events do get things done, but the stress levels and frustration can spike at times.

My point isn't that something is broken, but rather that the current system does not seem to be at its most efficient.

While I do teach the basics of this in my site heraldry class, the real point here is that heralds or at least the organizing heralds of the event should be part of the planning process from the early phases, and all members of the event staff should be told that the heralds are a resource they should consider using not only for announcements, but to carry messages to other staff and to relay any news they hear about other parts of the event. Conversely, heralds need to be told that they might be asked these things. In reality, most people notice a lot of this stuff naturally during the day, including heralds, so I really don't consider this a major increase in a herald's workload.

And on a functional note: I spoke a while back about my version of a herald's point. To both reiterate, and elaborate on part of that, I think the idea of a clipboard with a pencil and paper on it is an excellent prospect for leaving messages for heralds to announce. Merchants, taverns and anyone else can walk up to herald's point whenever they want, write down what they want said, and then walk away at their own leisure. The herald can then come up, see the notes, and make the needed announcements without the need to talk to eveyrone who needs something said.

Again, I'm very specifically not saying that the current system is broken, but rather that it has room for 'fine tuning'.

Overall, the thing I want you to take away from this is that the site herald is currently an under-appreciated (note, I did not say "under used") resource at an event, and if we can change that, I think we can make events that much easier to run.

At least that's the theory.

Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Protege to Master Robert Fitzmorgan
Nordsteorra Herald
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Cool News Video

This is a video entitled "Medieval Warriors in a Campground in Pennsylvania". Its produced by Voices of America, and much like the CBS Sunday Morning segment from ten years ago, this one is an excellent short overview of the society.


Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Protege to Master Robert Fitzmorgan
Nordsteorra Herald
Kingdom of Ansteorra  
"God Save the King!" 
Google Voice - (405) 385-9214

Monday, August 2, 2010

Antsteorrian Heraldic and Scribal Symposium

Saturday was the latest Ansteorran Heraldic and Scribal Symposium, hosted as a free event in Wiesenfeuer. A.H.S.S. was my first SCA event in close to six months, if memory serves me, and as it turned out, it was an day well invested.

After several laps of the 1400 block of N, May Street in Oklahoma City, I managed to locate the site, and made it into the building just in time for the first class of the day. I had decided before showing up that I wanted to attend Master Robin of Gilwell's class on the history of Ansteorran Awards and orders.
I arrived in the classroom to see Master Robert Fitzmorgan already there. This was amusing to me because it had been his praise of the the same class from an earlier event that prompted me to attend this one.
Remembering that this class is being held in a church, you might find considerable humor in Robin's class thesis: "Ansteorran awards are not a product of Intelligent design, but are clearly a result of evolution."

[Added-8/3/10: This line in my post has gotten some considerable comments in my private e-mail since it went up. Allow me to clarify a few things. The above was NOT meant as a comment on anyone's faith or personal beliefs. And since it was not actually referencing any issue of religion or science, I am perfectly comfortable posting it here. Robin's use of a modern social issue as a comparison to the history of the kingdom awards was a very witty and articulate turn of phrase, in my opinion, meant to engage the audience and lighten the mood. The fact that he used it inside  a church (one of the proverbial cornerstones of the actual evolution vs. creation debate) was just icing on the cake to me. I leave it here because it is such a cool turn of phrase, and I think it needs to be recorded as such.]

However, joking aside, Master Robin and his wife Mistress Serena worked together in concert for most of the class, and provided an amazing two-hour summary of the kingdom (and early society) awards structure. The history was fascinating, including the fact that a good number of the first kingdom champions were for the queen first (Queen's Champion & Queen's Blade of Chivalry for example), and the King's corresponding awards followed some time later. Sir Burk commented during the class that the King's Blade of Chivalry was a deliberate, direct translation of the queen's Blade of Chivalry, matching text, precedence and layout as closely as possible. In fact, the order of the SCA Queen is older than the SCA king by (I believe) a year, as well as the order of the Rose. When it was over, I was amazed at both the detail of the history, and how much change had taken place during my own time in Ansteorra. In fact, even since I have started this blog, awards have been closer and opened. The closing note for the class was that when Robin started teaching it several years ago, he could do it from memory, but now he needed notes, despite the fact that he was (highly) active when a lot of these awards were made and first presented. This is testimony to how truly complex the system has become.
The next class of the day, also by Master Robin, was perhaps my personal favorite of the event. In a small room at the end of the hallway, some dozen or more people crowded in and took a seat wherever they could (including one or two on the carpet) while Robin sat at the front of the room in a wicker seat that looked for all the world like a throne. The next hour could best be described as a conversation, lead and directed by Robin, where he talked in detail about the mindset that he felt needed to go into court.
This class was particularly well received by the audience at hand. Many of us were experienced heralds, past nobles or royals, or entourage, in other words, most of the room were people who already had a good idea of the mechanics that made an SCA court run, but had not necessarily been playing long enough to fully grasp some of the finer points of what went into making a good court spectacular.
One of the reoccurring points made was the constant balancing act between giving people the attention they deserve, and the need to keep things moving. Reading scrolls is not only not a period practice, its not even an SCA-wide one. Ansteorra (and perhaps a few other kingdoms) read the scroll texts in court, something that many people will admit can get old when ten people are getting an AOA back-to-back. When the audience can recite the text of the award being given, an argument can be made that you are losing people.
Robin gave some good summary pointers:
-If your audience if getting smaller, you're losing people.
-If your going to say something, know your first and last lines ahead of time, so that you know where to start, and what you are building to.
-Any business trying to be presented in court should be filtered through the question of "does this need to be in court?".
-Heralds should ask people to write down what they want said during an announcement so that the herald can make it himself. This both lets the herald regulate what is said, and prompts the person to economize his words.
-Squire/protege/apprentice ceremonies, "shameless event plugs" and hafla/camp party announcements should likely not be conducted in court, but can be made immediately before or after.
-However, those same announcements can be used to fill dead time, such as when someone is taking a long time to actually walk from their seat to the front of court.
-A noble and a herald working together are an extremely powerful team in controlling the pace and speed of court. But separately, neither of them are likely to be even half as effective.
A good portion of the class also included feedback from the audience. One comment that got rave reviews from Robin was when HL Adalia and Master Etienne pointed out that Northkeep held a children's court before feast so that children's awards could be handed out without competing for time during evening court. After hearing this, Robin sat in his chair with a thunderstruck expression for a second, and then calmly said "I love it. That's just an outstanding idea."

Robin said that this was the first time he gave this class, and from a pragmatic standpoint it showed. The polished, professional stream of information that had characterized his earlier class was more broken, and not quite as rehearsed. But the pure value of his experience (both as a herald and a landed baron), and his power as a public speaker and bard still made this an outstanding class. I honestly look forward to seeing him do the class again in the future. That type of forum is the best place for heralds to move past the basic nuts-and-bolts level of heraldry, and learn to take it to the real artistic level.

After that, it was lunchtime. Having the van to myself that day, I loaded up with four friends and we went out (in garb, of course) and proceeded to get funny looks from the patrons at a local Applebee's for an hour and ten minutes.

We got back just in time for the first afternoon classes, though I decided to sit out the next hour and catch up with some friends. I spoke with HL Reis for a good while, a conversation definitely worth having. Reis and his wife, Emma were amongst the people who taught me the nuts and bolts of heraldry, and are among a few whom I consider trusted advisors. Even to just sit and talk about nothing for an hour with Reis is time well spent in my opinion. Not long after that I found myself sitting and listening to Mistress Serena, HL Alejandro and Master Robert as we all talked, more or less, about Robin. The stories were hardly anything of substance, but were endlessly amusing and enlightening all at the same time.

I did attend a class during the third period of the afternoon, Lord Tostig's "how to follow your device/name after its submitted". Tostig is a "war weary" book herald who can legitimately start a story with "back when...". You don't have to be a herald to appreciate some of the heraldic kurfuffels he's been party to and walked away from with his sanity still intact. I will be the first to admit that book heraldry is not everyone's cup of tea, but Tostig has the ability to explain the newer resources in a way that is down to earth and simple. For individuals, that's important because they probably don't want to learn all of the nomenclature of the college of heralds, and for officers who do understand, its that much easier to listen to and process.

After that class, I had more opportunity to catch up with people I hadn't seen in a while. Robin was at the same table that his wife had been speaking with much the same audience, I quietly joined in the conversation and listen to robin narrate some extremely artful solutions he had come up with for some of the stickier moments of his time as a landed baron. At one point, while discussing the dynamics of e-mail, Robin began a statistical breakdown of a large e-mail list and the likelihood of a response to any given e-mail. I stopped him and and pointed out that Statistics was not my strength in school. Robin retorted with "well I teach statistics." I reached at that that point, grabbed and blank piece of white paper from the table and started waving it over my head, issuing a mock plea of "Mercy, I beg for mercy." I seem to remember Alejandro and Robin both getting a small chuckle out of that.

I also managed to talk with Annais and Rose the Obnoxious (she chose that name, btw), Tadhg and his wife Meraud, Castiannia, and HL Emma, just to name a few more. After as long away from the game and I have been, it was good to see each of these people, talk to them, and remind myself of why it is that I come out and do what I did for so long.

The event ended with little fanfare, and many hugs and well wishes before we all went our separate ways. My understanding is that the gate count was 105 [corrected from original post], well more than the projected 80 something. I know that most of us (if not all) are hoping to see the event come back strong next year.

Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Protege to Master Robert Fitzmorgan
Nordsteorra Herald
Kingdom of Ansteorra  
"God Save the King!" 
Google Voice - (405) 385-9214