This list has since been revised, please refer to the new version: Identifying Prowess in an SCA Musician Revised
This post is by Mistress Jadwiga Krzyzanowska and Mistress Kasha Alekseeva
As musicians, part of our responsibility is to help others understand how to assess the ability of others who practice our art. With that in mind, we’ve put together this description of the skills and knowledge areas we expect in SCA musicians who can be said to have achieved “prowess” in the art of music.
Please keep in mind that this list represents our views (Kasha and Jadzia), and others may differ in the relative value they assign these skills. Also, it’s important to realize that this does not address the whole range of how we might evaluate people to recommend for SCA awards (leadership, innovation, virtuous behavior, etc. are also important), but specifically mastery of this art.
You will notice that our list refers primarily to the musical tradition of Western Europe. While this tradition is the most common musical interest area among SCA scholars, we recognize that other musical traditions also exist and have rich histories. For musicians whose area of expertise is one or more non-Western musics, please modify the skill/knowledge descriptions accordingly.
List of Expected Skills & Knowledge Areas
The following items are divided into three sections: Proficiency with the Elements of Historical Music (all of which we expect musicians of high prowess to possess), In-Depth Understanding of Historical Music (of which we expect musicians of high prowess to possess many), and Areas of Individual Expertise (of which we expect musicians of high prowess to possess only a few).
Proficiency with the Elements of Historical Music: A musician with high prowess will be competent in all of the following skills/knowledge areas for each category.
History & Musicology
- Identify many period genres (at least 2-3 per century from 1100-1600). For each style, describe prominent compositional features and forms; name 1-2 exemplifying composers and 2-3 exemplifying pieces; and discuss the relationships among composers, performers, and audiences.
- Describe several major social/economic events and philosophical movements that impacted the composition and performance of music before 1600.
- Find sheet music for pieces from any major musical style from before 1600. Demonstrate familiarity with common online sources of repertoire (CPDL, IMSLP, etc.).
- Provide multiple period musical examples to support assertions when writing documentation or teaching a class.
- Identify 3-5 accurate modern sources on period music that are personal go-to references. Describe situations in which each one might be especially useful.
- Outline the history of Western music from 900-1600, tracing developments in musical forms, notational systems, aesthetics, and technology.
- Categorize musical instruments by primary material and/or method of sound production.
- Engage meaningfully with other musicians. Ask questions about unfamiliar pieces and musical styles that reveal an underlying understanding of period practices and mindsets. Use similar questions to evaluate performers (for example, in a competition) with different areas of musical expertise.
Composition & Theory
- Read modern Western musical notation fluently.
- Understand and use standard musical vocabulary to describe all aspects of music, including pitch, duration, dynamics, timbre, texture, form, and expressive techniques.
- When working with editions of period music, identify areas of the score where changes were likely made by editors. Find and correct errors or questionable choices.
- Transcribe and arrange (using appropriate arrangement techniques) period music as needed for specific ensembles and teaching/performance situations.
- When a culture lacks extant musical scores, propose possible characteristics of that culture’s historical music by extrapolating from contemporary descriptions in historical documents or art, characteristics of later music from that culture, and extant period music from surrounding cultures.
- Recognize and name a few prominent forms of historical musical notation. Know where to look for more information about each.
- Define frequently encountered medieval and Renaissance music concepts, for example: musica ficta, church modes, text painting, imitation, Guidonian hand, Picardy third, parallel fifths/octaves, counterpoint, etc. Allow these concepts to inform performance.
- Describe the text-music relationship of any piece with lyrics, identifying instances of text painting, the influence of text on the piece’s form/structure, musical constraints caused by linguistic features of the text, etc.
- Demonstrate awareness that the rules of music differ among cultures. When interacting with non-Western musics, identify and investigate unfamiliar modes, rhythmic patterns, tuning, etc.
- Outline the history of musical composition practice from 900-1600, tracing developments in modes/scales, harmonic motion, rhythmic rules, and expressive devices.
- By listening only, identify the style, language, and/or approximate date of pieces in musical styles that are more popular in the SCA (e.g., English madrigals, late-period dance music, the Cantigas de Santa Maria).
- Sightread easy- to medium-level pieces with enough fluency to play with others in spontaneous pickup groups. Examples of repertoire in this category include most pieces from the Pennsic Pile or The Recorder Consort (volumes 1-4) by Steve Rosenberg.
- Play one or more instruments/voice well. Use accurate technique to produce most sounds desired by the performer and/or indicated by the score, with a consistent, stylistically appropriate tone and correct intonation, articulation, pitch/rhythmic accuracy, and phrasing.
- Execute good ensemble sense and technique: When reading a score, find a way to jump back in when lost. Lead and follow as the music demands. Identify and correct errors without excessive explanations or excuse-making. Hold a line independently, and help others hold their lines.
- Appropriately warm up and care for one’s instrument/voice. Describe and use healthy and effective posture and (for voice and wind instruments) breath production.
- Describe in detail what one has performed (whether memorized, read, or improvised) and in somewhat less detail what one has heard.
- Compare and combine information from multiple editions, when available, for performance or study.
- For instrumentalists: Demonstrate robust familiarity with various versions/options (brand, material, size, range, accessories, etc.) of primary instrument. Justify the selection of a specific instrument and instrument accessories for each situation or piece. For vocalists: Demonstrate robust familiarity with various voice types. Choose pieces to perform with an understanding of one’s own (or the group’s) vocal range, flexibility, tone, volume, etc. Assign parts in multi-voice pieces according to voice type of participating vocalists.
- Experiment with period performance practice. Examples (as appropriate to era, place, instrument, and social context) include memorization, reading from historical notation, ornamentation, articulation, etc. For vocalists, additional examples include historical pronunciation and use of primarily straight tone (with vibrato for ornamentation).
- Demonstrate knowledge of historical music theory by counting time in larger beats (half notes or whole notes instead of quarter notes as in most modern music). De-emphasize the presence of barlines in modern editions.
- When performing pieces with lyrics, pronounce common languages (e.g., Italian, Latin, French, German, Spanish) with correct modern pronunciation.
- Perform in an engaging, vibrant manner (as appropriate to the style of music) that helps the audience connect to the music. Provide commentary and/or program notes that help audience members understand what to listen for in each specific piece.
Note: Some instrument/voice types or musical traditions stress individual rather than ensemble performance. For performers whose musical style of expertise de-emphasizes ensemble work, this category may be less important.
- Lead ensembles of all skill levels with a welcoming, patient attitude. Identify appropriate, achievable challenges for groups of all levels.
- Choose pieces for any given group that are appropriate to the group’s instrumentation and ability level.
- Assign parts by considering the individual characteristics of each voice/instrument as well as the blend of the group as a whole. Substitute missing voices and instruments with ones of similar timbre, range, and capability.
- Use knowledge of historical music theory and social context to help the group understand each piece and perform in a more historically accurate style. As appropriate to the group’s skill level, encourage deeper engagement with the repertoire.
- Lead a group in 10-15 minutes of warm-ups that successfully prepare voices/instruments for activity throughout their full ranges. Find or create exercises to help the ensemble work on common challenges, such as intonation and blend.
- Notice, diagnose, and guide others during rehearsal in solving ensemble challenges such as tuning, blend, entrances/cut-offs, and phrasing.
In-Depth Understanding of Historical Music: A musician with high prowess will be competent in many (at least ⅔ – ¾) of the following skills/knowledge areas, including at least one in each category. For each area in which the musician is not proficient, the musician can name and contact at least one SCA musician who is proficient in this area.
History & Musicology
- Find scores for pieces from almost any musical style from before 1600. Demonstrate familiarity with several online sources of repertoire, as well as printed collections.
- Locate facsimiles of period scores from common online sources (DIAMM, IMSLP, Bavarian State Library, etc.). Refer to facsimile when developing a performance, especially for text underlay.
- Demonstrate familiarity with one or more non-Western musics from before 1600. Describe their instruments, genres, composers, performers, and cultural contexts.
- Demonstrate great knowledge about several period styles of music. Describe features of each style in detail, using multiple examples of extant period scores. Explain the style’s cultural context, referring to extra-musical sources such as political documents, literature, and visual arts. Describe the relationship of the style to other period arts (e.g., dance, poetry, drama), language(s) of the surrounding culture, and religious/political ceremonies (as relevant).
Composition & Theory
- Demonstrate working knowledge of historical notational styles. Given enough time, interpret and transcribe music from original notation.
- Demonstrate detailed knowledge of the theoretical characteristics of at least one period style. Describe the rules of the style and generate examples of correct and incorrect techniques.
- Compose pieces in simple styles (e.g., cantiga, chorale, Minnesang) that are nearly indistinguishable from similar period pieces.
- Use knowledge of period musical theory to make an arrangement of a period piece that is nearly indistinguishable from similar period arrangements. Follow appropriate contrapuntal and voice leading principles for the piece’s style. Write individual parts that are idiomatic for the intended voice or instrument.
- Name and summarize 3-5 period music treatises and/or performance instruction manuals. Consult them when studying or performing relevant pieces.
- Explain basic principles of acoustics, sound production in musical instruments, and human vocal production.
- By listening only, identify the style, form, language, and/or approximate date of most pre-1600 musical pieces.
- Employ period performance practices consistently in performance. Confidently describe historical performance practices for primary instrument. Name and locate resources about historical performance practices for other instruments (voice, keyboard, string, wind, and percussion).
- Sightread most music with enough accuracy to lead others in learning the piece. If primary instrument is a melody- or chord-playing instrument: Read much of repertoire at sight. If primary instrument is voice: Learn music independently and quickly. (At first rehearsal, if given the music ahead of time, learn part without much if any work at the piano.) If primary instrument is unpitched percussion: Choose and implement appropriate rhythmic pattern, with reference to genre and time signature/mensuration of piece, at first or second play-through.
- Demonstrate familiarity with many period musical instruments (including voice). Describe their materials, forms/shapes, appropriate care, idiomatic ornamentation styles, and specific techniques.
- Fluently read alternate forms of modern Western musical notation (tablature, lead sheets, figured bass, etc.).
- When performing pieces with lyrics, pronounce common languages (e.g., Italian, Latin, French, German, Spanish) with pronunciation that is correct to the time and location of the piece’s origin. Pronounce less familiar languages (e.g., Occitan, Catalan, Portuguese, Greek, Russian, Polish, Middle English) with correct modern pronunciation or an attempt at correct historical pronunciation.
- Conduct with motions that are effective, clear, and consistent, with subtle gestures for small ensembles and more visible ones for larger ensembles.
- Understand that conducting as we now practice it was not used until the 18th century. Describe period methods of time-keeping and indicating melodic shape, such as liturgical hand signals and beating time with a staff, stick, or roll of paper.
Areas of Individual Expertise: A musician with high prowess will be competent in at least one of the following skills/knowledge areas in at least one category.
History & Musicology
- Demonstrate great knowledge about at least one style of music that is less studied in the SCA (e.g., a style from before 1200 or from an area other than Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, or England). Describe features of the style in detail, using multiple examples of extant period scores. Explain the style’s cultural context, referring to extra-musical sources such as political documents, literature, and visual arts.
- Demonstrate expert knowledge in the music of at least one culture/place (throughout SCA period) or at least one historical era (across Europe or another large area). Compare, contrast, and describe the relationships among various musical styles included in that culture/place or era, using detailed examples from extant scores and other historical sources.
Composition & Theory
- Demonstrate great knowledge of historical notation. Perform from one or more styles of historical notation at sight.
- Compose long or complicated pieces that are nearly indistinguishable from similar period compositions. Demonstrate facility with complex or involved sets of compositional rules, such as isometric motets, rhythmic modes, mensuration, species counterpoint, etc.
- By listening only, identify pitches, rhythms, and other musical features in a performance or recording that are likely to be incorrect or questionable according to the stylistic “rules” relevant to the piece.
- Play one or more instruments/voice expertly. Use accurate technique to produce all sounds desired by the performer and/or indicated by the score, with a consistent, stylistically appropriate tone and near perfect intonation, articulation, pitch/rhythmic accuracy, and phrasing.
- Sightread challenging music (e.g., ars subtilior, florid organum, toccatas) with enough accuracy to lead others in learning the piece.
- Investigate and implement period methods of time-keeping and indicating melodic shape, such as liturgical hand signals and beating time with a staff, stick, or roll of paper.
- Investigate and implement period methods of teaching pieces to performers, such as solmization with hexachords.