How do you go from being a person who does not perform, to being a fabulous bard with a song or poem up their sleeve for every occasion and who can give a dazzling performance in any space? It may seem like an impossible leap. I’m going to start running a thread about techniques and tactics for becoming a bard. I’ve been a performer for a good twenty years, but I’ve also run spaces where I’ve been able to help people cross this threshold. I’ve got a fair amount of experience to draw on, and a desire to help as many people as I can realise that even though yes, it is a big, intimidating looking step, it is also an entirely feasible step to take.
You probably weren’t one of the kids cast in lead roles for school productions. You probably weren’t chosen for solos in the choir – if you joined it. Most of us get signals – more and less explicit – from early on that when it comes to music and drama, we don’t make the grade. We stop singing, we don’t act, we don’t declaim poetry, we don’t improvise tunes in the middle of woods, but probably we always wanted to. Then we find out way home to Paganism, and the shining promise of the bard path, and all the things we wanted and were afraid to do because some numpty told us as children that we couldn’t.
Where do you even start?
I recommend starting by training your memory. Commit some things to memory – small poems, chants, songs that aren’t too tricky, a tune, a prayer – pick things you like and that seem easy. Learn them so that you can recite them by heart. Learn them so that they become part of you. (Methods for learning is something I’ll cover at some point later). Get a dozen pieces you know you can do well before you think about performing. It’s tempting to get one thing and take it straight out, but this isn’t the best way. It may go well, and then they ask for a second, and you aren’t ready…
There is a confidence that comes from really, really knowing a set of pieces. The time you devote to learning them, you will also learn about your relationship with said pieces – what each means to you, what’s important in it, and from that, how to put it across well. If you explore a number of forms, you’ll find out what comes most readily to you, what appeals, and what doesn’t suit you so well. Be prepared to keep revisiting this, to broaden what you do, but at the same time, know your strengths.
We don’t use our memories as much as our ancestors did, you find this is a muscle that lacks for tone, and it will take time and effort to strengthen it. That’s ok, just put in the time. The vast majority of us can remember stuff – and can learn and remember far more than we think we can. Unless you have a brain injury or similar level of damage, do not imagine that you can’t remember things. Keep pushing. Work on it every day if needs be. Repeat, and repeat and repeat. Get used to working at it.
One of the mistakes people who aren’t performing make, is that they look at the apparently effortless work of a skilled bard, and assume that what the bard is doing is effortless. To be able to seem like you’re telling a story off the cuff, or to be so easy for a song that you can re-write bits of it to suit the occasion, is not proof of lack of effort. To get to that stage has taken the person years of dedication and graft. Hours and hours of practice. To a significant degree, it is the willingness to do the work that will divide the bards from the non-bards.