Seven Deadly Bardic Sins – Part 1

by brendanthebard

The Seven Deadly Sins are a classic list of behaviors one is cautioned to avoid in order to lead a virtuous life.  Some of them are harmful to others (Wrath, Lust, Greed) while others are harmful to yourself (Gluttony, Sloth, Envy, Pride).

There are bardic equivalents to these – behaviors that you should avoid as a performer.  As with the original list, some hurt you in the eyes of your audience.  Others, while not strictly harmful to others, are certainly disrespectful of your audience.  And yes, I’ve committed most of them over the past few decades, so I think I speak with some authority.  In no particular order, they are:

Apologizing, Unpreparedness, Overreach, Staleness, Inappropriateness, Pride, and Timidity

In this series I will return many times to the fact that an audience is giving a performer their time and attention – something that is ephemeral and happening in the moment – and which they can’t get back. I am indebted to Lady Ursula Mortimer for pointing that out.  I’m truly blessed to have such wise friends.

1. Apologizing

“Um, this is the first time that I’ve done this, so I probably won’t be very good.”

This makes me want to scream.  (I have, in fact, shouted “DON’T APOLOGIZE!” at performers.)

Your audience has just agreed to give you a chunk of their life that they can’t get back.  And you start out by telling them that they’ve made a mistake and should probably be doing something else?  Are you NUTS?  That’s like starting a garden by working in salt rather than fertilizer!

SCA audiences know that everyone else in the room is an amateur – we do what we do for the love of doing it.  We don’t expect a Queen-at-Wembly* performance. We DO expect to hear people who are excited to have learned something and are eager to share it. We’re more than willing to extend simple courtesy and a generous measure of forgiveness for errors. (There are limits, though.  We’ll cover that in a future post.)

But when you start by telling everyone how bad you are, you do NOT sow sympathy in advance. Instead, you prime the audience to watch for your mistakes.




There are two and ONLY two scenarios where you should apologize.  One is if you totally misjudge the audience and venue, and perform something that’s completely inappropriate, such as a blatantly bawdy song with children present. (I’ve seen that happen, despite performers being advised of the presence of kids.  Not A Good Thing.)

The other situation is if you totally lose it during the performance.  That’s happened to me.  At a RenFair years ago I was in the middle of a long ballad in the key of G, and totally on autopilot. (A RenFair gig consists of doing the same ten songs over and over and over and over and…  it’s really easy to go on autopilot.) I played through the three-chord turnaround at the end of the chorus, and suddenly realized that I had no idea what came next.  Not only did I not know which verse was next, I didn’t know which song I was singing!  I stopped dead cold – what else could I do?  There was nothing to do but own up to it.  We all had a good laugh (at my expense), and I picked up and started over with something different.

Note that I did NOT include the situation where you make a small error during the performance, recover smoothly, and continue.  When that happens (not if, but when – rest assured that at some point you’ll forget a verse or flub a chord change), DON’T STOP AND APOLOGIZE!  95 times out of 100, no one will notice but you (and anyone who does notice probably won’t say anything, because we’re all amateurs here).  So don’t call attention to the error!

If you KNOW that you’re NOT ready to perform, THEN DON’T PERFORM!  Go practice some more, or find or create a “bardic safe zone” to practice new material or technique.  But don’t EVER stand up and tell the audience how bad you’re going to be before you even start!  If you’re as ready as you can be (see next post), then take a deep breath, square your shoulders, expect the best, and GO DO IT!

*Queen’s 1986 concert at Wembley in is widely considered to be the finest live rock and roll performance of all time.  I have it on DVD and I have to put it in at least the top five.  If nothing else, Freddie Mercury’s playing to a HUGE audience (~80,000) is nothing short of masterful. Freddie NEVER apologized.