Warrior Ethics in Japanese War Tales

Today I get to talk about one of my favorite literary genres: the Japanese war tale!

War tales (gunki monogatari) are books of Japanese prose fiction about wars and other military conflicts, primarily written in the Kamakura and Muromachi periods (though some of those I’ll discuss are even older). Usually written by anonymous authors or compiled from oral tradition, war tales depict actual historical events and characters in a fictionalized way. Although they’re not always completely historically accurate, war tales are valuable resources for medieval Japanese ideas about specific historical events, the overall meaning of those events, and values about warfare and the people involved in warfare. Continue reading

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Winter Holiday Songs

The reason I’ve been silent for the last month or so is that I’ve been finishing this:

A Collection of Winter Holiday Songs for Medieval & Renaissance Enthusiasts

It’s a big songbook of SCA-Period Christmas carols (and songs for other winter holidays). I’ve been working on it for 2-3 years, and I’m excited to have finally finished it.

The joy of singing holiday songs often comes from revisiting favorites, indulging in memories and joining in the ritual of singing familiar songs with others. I think that’s why many people don’t want to sing SCA-period carols: They want to sing their favorites, and they believe that none of their favorites are old enough to “count”. I hope this songbook will help show that there are plenty of pre-1600 holiday songs that are still popular today.

For example, did you know that the following songs are wholly or partially SCA-period?

  • O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
  • O Tannenbaum
  • What Child Is This?
  • The First Nowell
  • Ding Dong Merrily on High
  • God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen
  • Good Christian Men, Rejoice
  • Christ Was Born on Christmas Day
  • The Boar’s Head in Hand Bear I
  • Good King Wenceslas
  • Auld Lang Syne
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas

I’ve tried to include as many modern favorites as possible, but there are also lots of new songs, too! For more details about how I decided what to include, please read the Forward.

I hope people will find this helpful. As always, if you have questions or comments, feel free to contact me.

Here’s the link one more time.


A few things that I’ll fix the next time I update the pdf:

  • p. 28: A 2-voice version of “Veni, Veni Emanuel” was discovered by Mary Berry in the 1960s. I’ll include it in the next update. (Also, the second word in verse 2 shouldn’t be capitalized. Whoops!)
  • p. 37, 224, & 247: “Sloan” should be spelled “Sloane”.
  • p. 37: The missing sign for the D. S. al Fine belongs at measure 1, just after the pickup.
  • p. 97: Stella ducte lumine means “drawn by the star’s light”.
  • p. 103: I intended to capitalize the song’s title as “Dieux Soit en Cheste Maison”.
  • p. 197: “Sellenger’s Round” is found in My Ladye Nevells Booke of Virginal Music (1591) by William Byrd (c. 1540 – 1623).
  • p. 230: “Sellenger’s Round” appears in the 1687 edition of The English Dancing Master, not the 1651 edition. Also, the tune appears solidly within SCA Period in My Ladye Nevells Booke of Virginal Music (1591) by William Byrd (c. 1540 – 1623).

Note: For several songs, the popular form of the melody (which I have included) is somewhat modified from the original melody as published in period. One good example is page 120, where the modification and its source are noted in the Index but not in the main body of the book.

To add in the next edition: “Dives and Lazarus”

Altas undas que venez suz la mar

For fun, I’ve written a singable translation of a little piece that has been attributed to my favorite troubadour, Raimbaut de Vaqueiras. It is almost certainly not by him, since it is not at all his style, but it is cute nonetheless.

Sadly, I cannot find any information about the original tune for this piece. It might not exist anymore. I was able to find a couple of recordings of people singing these lyrics to different tunes, however. Perhaps these tunes are composed by the performers?

Having given up on finding an extant 12th-century tune for these lyrics, I’ve decided to simply place them here, sans music. Here are the original lyrics, if you’d like to compare – as I said, they are very cute.

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Saibara: 12th Century “Folk” (Court) Music

Today’s big project was transcribing all of the music for the saibara lyrics I’ve translated.

This particular endeavor began this spring. We had decided to have a Gempei War-era theme for my vigil and elevation ceremony in April, and we needed some Japanese music. Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult to find notated copies of medieval Japanese music, at least here in the United States. (There are some recordings, but no sheet music that I could find.)

At last, thanks to the suggestion of a friend, I located a copy of Saibara: Japanese Court Songs of the Heian Period, a two-volume 1983 book by Elizabeth Markham, an important work in the study of Japanese music. Markham discusses the history and performance of saibara quite a bit, but the most useful and important part of the book is the complete transcription she includes for all fifty-five of the saibara songs in the Sango-yōroku and Jinchi-yōroku. These two 12th-century manuscripts are saibara song books with tablature, one each for koto and biwa. They were edited by Fujiwara no Moronaga after he stepped down as Chancellor.

(good job insei government at least you did one thing right)

Continue reading