Category: Writing

Anglo-Saxon Music and Poetry (by )

Bryd One Brere - Anglo-Saxon are and Voice

So I have been investigating the oral traditions of the Anglo-Saxons, this includes song, poetry and story telling and really how the three were once one thing - no ones really quiet sure what the music sounded like or how much of the stories where sung or spoken - there were probably variations like we have today - after all they were people just like us.

Replicas of the instruments much such beautiful haunting sounds that I have fallen in love with them and found myself falling down a rabbit whole of music history and theory. I am now reading up on the general history of the lyre or harp which has taken me back into the old testament of the bible and also into listening to Pirate Thrash Metal!

Stories where not just entertainment they were the history and identity of people but they were also the media of the time. You wanted to be remembered then you needed the bards to sing of you! Aethelflaed, her father Alfred the Great and her brother all knew how important stories could be.

We are lucky in that some of these stories still exist today - some even got written down in contemporary times ie more than a millennium ago! But even written stories struggle at being static and alter with the copying and in some cases purging of the words. Aethelflaed herself appears to have been purposefully written out of the Wessex or primary version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - by her brother for fear that the stories of her would encourage her Kingdom of Mercia to see itself as always distinct from Wessex. But she appears in later stories - romanticised and even turned into a virgin - though potentially that is due to exact meanings of words changing through time.

It is thought that the poem Judith is based on her - and maybe even commissioned by her - it casts parallels of the virtuous biblical female and the Lady of Mercia. I need to investigate it more - here's the [Wikipedia page](Anglo-Saxon poem Judith). I am struggling to find copies or it but I have found this 7 hr etc... video of another poem called The Wanderer - this is the one I have been quoting (in translation) at my poetry afternoons in Waterstones in Gloucester.

Of course the fact that I am having to read out translations is another fascinating warren of knowledge for me to investigate - I was taught in school about Old and Middle English but I kind of forgot about it all except when Alaric starts quoting Chuarcer at me. Due to character develop for my puppet of Aethelflaed I am also investigating the language - I love how languages split and merge and change and how you can trace human interactions along the lines of dialects and word exchange. But that shall be another blog post or two - back to Anglo-Saxon Music.

Youtube is filled with some brilliant pieces.

Anglo-Saxon poem "Deor" with Lyre

One of the reasons I have got myself a lyre is because they appear in the art works of Anglo-Saxon England and remnants have been found both in Britain on in Europe, culturally the Anglo-Saxons where from northern Europe including what is now Germany and those pesky Vikings they were fighting, they had once been themselves. So you can through Danes into the mix not to mention the "Celtic" and Britons who were lurking around since before Roman times, we always tend to think of history in simple A to B narratives but it very much isn't and there are influences from all over the place. The lyre itself is a very ancient instrument and may well have come to Europe from the Middle East - as in the harp that David plays in the bible.

But the lyre is not the only instrument that the Anglo-Saxons used - drums and flutes are featured in their artworks - I simply do not have the budget to explore these other instruments at the moment but it is on the to-do list. It is thought that they would often have been played in conjunction with each other - here is an example.

Anglo-Saxon Folk Music - "Wælheall"

Music isn't as clear cut a thing as I was initially taught at school with 8 notes and nothing in-between, musical tuning and what counts as a note has changed quiet drastically. I see this as an amazing diversity and am happy because having grown up with folk and gospel singing I also struggled with the classical definition of music. Rock and pop tend to mix it all up which I think is also fab! But this can mean that people perceive older types of music or say those from India etc... as being out of tune. This isn't the case but it is due to how the instruments are tuned. They are in tune with themselves and not necessarily with other surrounding instruments, you have to work at finding what fits together and as a vocalist adapt to the instruments you are singing along with. In choir I did a lot of singing without instrument backing - sometime the song sound fab - we were all in tune with each other and the music was full and vibrating the rafters but when the piano was dinged at the end to see if we had maintained our tuning - we... hadn't. We were off doing our own thing. I think that this is kind of how older music would have worked - you had natural materials which would affect what sounds the finished instrument would be suited too ie the grain of the wood and the shape in which it carved, the diet of the animal the sinue came from to string it... so many little factors. The classical music that we are taught as Music in schools has very specific parameters and if and instrument can't meet those it is considered defective - I think there is no coincidence that the emergence of such strict musicality came about as technology and science began to be a thing throughout Europe.

This is complete guess work on my part I can't even read music (well not with out looking the notes up and then pinging them on my guitar! I've always worked things out by watching or just playing around with the instrument), I am certainly no music theorist and I'm not even a historian! If I am wrong - tell me how I am wrong - I am investigating this stuff - searching and learning and others input is always appreciated!

What's that? I digressed? Yeah ok you have a point....

I will finish off with this video I found of The Classic - the first piece of European Literature (if you take the Mediterranean as not being Europe) - the Epic Poem of BeoWulf sung and played on the hardy-gurdy (now there's an instrument I would like to get my hands on! But I believe it was a later dated instrument - more high medieval than the low medieval of Saxon England - I could be wrong as I have a hell of a lot more reading to do!).

I think this is this guy - anyway I better get back to trying to work out how to play my lyre - twinkle twinkle little star.... ok so they are the tunes I knew the best ok!

The Quest for Aethelflaed Hots Up!!! (by )

This year is the 1100 yr anniversary of Aethelflaed, the Lady of Mercia and Warrior Queen's death - living in the city she was buried in means that of course I have become involved with the celebrations to mark the occasion!

Here. is a little summary - though it does not yet mention everything that is happening 🙂

There is so much AWESOME going on for this event - I'm taking Cuddly Science's Histories to the event and have been researching and amassing much stuff for workshops including metallurgy, textiles, music, a new puppet, mud squishing, art history, wood work and more!

I have been privileged to work with the people at the Museum of Gloucester and have been pestering historians everywhere - I might also have high jacked the family holiday and various story telling gigs to slip in some extra research. I've reached the stage of trying to track down copies of various Chronicles (in translation) and have revived my interest in Viking/Saxon et al poetry.

Last year I decided it was time to move Cuddly Science onto phase 2 - Cuddly Histories and so found myself at the Archaeology Festival and even at some digs <3 Being a geologist by training this reminded me of my love for archaeology and history - I went on to take part in the History festival with a talk on Cave Art and so on...

I'd already decided to make the Aethelflaed puppet for this year when the chance of being involved in the festival came up and so my Quest for Aethelflaed and Search for All Things Anglo-Saxon started - I have taken photos of rocks and statues and medallions and fallen down rabbit holes of Norse language roots, I am using my science, technology, art, and craft skills, I am researching and learning and this makes me very happy - I am also meeting lots of interesting people on the way.

I am also learning so much about the city I live in - things I just didn't know.

With only about a month or so to go before the festival it's time to turn the heat up on my Quest - can you work out what I am up to with this little piece of kit?

Silicon mould

Robins Wood Hill Green Spaces Poetry Walk (by )

Burrow Wake Fading Day Poetry Walk (by )

Hidden Gloucester Green Spaces Autumn Poetry Walk Part 1 (by )

These photos were taken on a walk I took with my family through our local green spaces especially for our youngest to collect conquers.

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