Saturday, November 18, 2017

What a Drag


     I play guitar a little bit.
     There’s a piece by Bach I’m working on. I play some blues. I love flamenco. I play most every day, practicing one thing or another. Depending on my mood, it may be classical stuff, or jazz or a bunch of different things.
     When I work on that Bach piece, I don’t wear a white-powdered wig and a long frock coat. 
     When I play the blues, I don’t break out my black-face make-up, shades and stingy-brim fedora. 
     When I play flamenco, I don’t change into a flat-brimmed sombrero, and high-heeled botas.
     You know why not?
     Because playing music is about playing music and playing it well. 
     I’m not practicing the guitar as an exercise in fantasy role-playing, wearing just the right cliché costume for the part. That’s what “air guitar” is about. I don’t want to pretend to play the guitar, I want to actually play the guitar.
     When I play JSB's Chaconne in d minor, I’m not trying to “re-enact” history. I’m playing a piece of music that is just as beautiful and poignant today as when it was written back around 1720. I’m not expressing Bach’s feelings. I can’t. I’m not Bach. I’m expressing my own feelings through Bach’s music.
     If I were to don a white powdered wig to play my Bach piece, would that make my performance any better? Would it render my interpretation any more accurate or “authentic?” Would the piece be any more poignant?
     I think not.
     When I play Born Under a Bad Sign, or T’Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do, should I dress up like Dan Akroyd’s stunt double in a Blues Brothers re-make? Should I put on some Al Jolson black-face make-up? Will that give me a better, more “authentic” sound?  
     I think not.
     I’m not Black. But I’ve sure enough had the blues. 
     Unless I’m getting paid to be an actor, I don’t want to pretend to be something I’m not.

     "Okay," you might inquire, "where are you going with all this?"
     Funny you should ask.
     Why is it that just about everyone who claims to be a “serious” student of the sword, finds it impossible to resist playing dress-up? I’m not talking about fantasy role-playing outfits like the SCA. I’m talking about people who claim to be serious students of the sword. They get into their pseudo-medieval attire for long sword, break out the facsimile doublet and trunk hose for rapier, and don their stiffest 1890’s drag to do “classical” fencing.

     Does it make their fencing any better, more accurate, more authentic?
     You know what we wear in my salle when we practice long sword?
     Baggy grey sweats.
     Guess what the uniform is for rapier and dagger?
     Baggy grey sweats.
     Classical fencing?
     Baggy grey sweats.
     We wear what’s comfortable and functional, and yes, we wear what’s protective, too -- a mask and padded jacket. But we don’t do the costume party thing. We don't play dress-up. Period.
     You know why not?
     Because practicing the sword is about practicing the sword and doing it well.
     We’re not learning how to pretend to fight using the sword, we are learning how to actually fight using the sword.
     The sword is every bit as demanding and deadly today as it was in 1660, and the principles of technique, tactics and strategy that the sword can teach are just as vital and relevant today as they ever were.
     We practice the sword to make ourselves better human beings, to change the way we live in the world, and thereby to change the world.
     We’re not “re-enacting” history. We’re making it.
     The sword isn’t about the past.
     It’s about the future.
In Ferro Veritas.
-- aac

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