In Cottington Woods, we have a bunch of people playing bards, and few more who aren’t bards but still like to perform. There’s a songbird, a singing cat, a scarecrow, and a couple of guys who also perform at Ren Faires and SCA events. Most people sing unaccompanied by instruments, but a guitar gets brought into the mix now and then.
I love it.
This is the most I’ve seen music incorporated into LARP, and I find it really contributes to the atmosphere and makes hanging out in our tavern, the Cotting House, a lot of fun during downtime and meals. Fingers crossed someday we have this sort of thing while sitting around a campfire. That would a LARPing dream for me. (Which may not come true, depending on how restrictive our campsites’ regulations are, but who knows.)
I suspect all of these performing players are into folk music, sea shanties, medieval and Renaissance tunes, and the like outside of this LARP and have been for awhile. So there’s a fairly large list of songs that I hear performed in the tavern (and on modules that require bardic abilities to distract and enchant.) I’ve been trying to look up the various songs online so I can listen to them between events, but I can’t always guess the titles or remember enough lyrics to find them online.
So I posted online, asking people for lists of songs they’ve performed. If I’d been a little smarter, I might have asked in-character during an event and written them down in my in-game journal. Oh, well. Next time.
Meanwhile, my online request inadvertently kicked off a discussion about songs that have real world names in them and whether or not they break immersion, and whether or not it’s to the extent that makes them not worth it to perform in-game.
I should mention here that this all applies to any proper noun that’s specifically real-world, not just places (people, institutions, etc.) but since the conversation online was mostly about places (since that’s the most common real world type of noun that has come up) I’ll refer to places in this post.
In particular, the two songs that got mentioned were “(Bound for) South Australia” and “The Scotsman.” (They’re really worth listening to, though odds are, if you’re a geek, you’ve heard “The Scotsman” at some event or another.) The former has the word “Australia” in every verse and the chorus (and three times in the first chorus) so it’s admittedly hard to gloss over, mentally. And “The Scotsman,” naturally, repeatedly references Scotland.
My personal take on it is that, in all honesty, hearing the name of real world places does jar me slightly out of character- I’m aware that they’re real places and not a places in-game when I hear it. (On a side note, I felt the same effect when I heard the name “Amelia Earheart,” and she apparently exists in the fairy tale world of Cottington Woods?) However, it’s very minor, and the effect is mostly overshadowed by the value of the atmosphere created by period music.
I suppose that may not be universal.
Specifically, in the case of “South Australia,” the music makes me want to acquire a tankard so I’d have something to bang heartily on the table. In the absence of a tankard, I’d kinda like to get up on stomp in time on the table. Or at least the bench. I just love the effect this tune has, and I’d be pretty disappointed if I thought I was never going to hear it in-game again.
One suggestion put forth as a compromise was the rewrite the lyrics a bit, or “filk” them as some people call it. For example, replacing the word “Scotsman” with “Clubman,” as there’s a place in-game called the Clublands, which is possibly the most analogous to Scotland, if anything is. (There actually is a place that’s analogous to Australia, too- how often do you see that in a LARP?- but unfortunately “Lakupaparoo” doesn’t have the right phonetic structure to replace “South Australia” in a song.)
This seems like a reasonable compromise to me, especially if one doesn’t feel as though all the names of places in the song need to be replaced with established places in game. In other words, if there’s nothing phonetically similar to South Australia in the LARP, one could easily make up a random name that, for all we know, is part of the LARP’s setting. South Eulalia, for example.
I don’t know if this is a perfect solution. If it sounds too similar to the original, will it still call the original real-world place to mind? What about other words that reference those places’ cultures, like “kilt”? Are bards more likely to slip and mix in the real-world name in some verses? I’m not certain. One bard did seem resistant to the idea, because changing the lyrics means performing in a way that’s not true to the original song (and he picked “The Scotsman” as his line in the sand.) Perhaps the effort needed to remember to use the wrong place name drags the bard out of the moment of performing. It’s hard to say. I don’t sing. And I always thought that if someone did manage to coax a song out of my character, I’d pick one in a different language that no one else was likely to recognize, so even if it contains real world names, people most likely won’t be able to pick them out and have their immersion affected.
Other LARPers posting online seemed to be mostly agreeing that hearing real-world names of places was too anti-immersive. And there seems to be a consensus that real place names fall on a spectrum, and a name could be generic enough or not famous enough to warrant avoiding the song or altering the lyrics. To wit, while the name “Australia” may feel anti-immersive to some, “Cape Horn” probably won’t negatively effect immersion at all. So it might make sense to just cut all songs that have very noticeable real world place names, and leave songs that only have obscure or generic sounding place names. While that might be overkill for someone like me, maybe we should be erring on the side of immersion for as many people as possible.
But like I said, as much as I want to the LARP to be as immersive as possible for everyone, I just like the tune of “South Australia” enough to not want to give it up. Some people suggested only playing songs with obvious real-world place names quietly off the side, and not performing them with the intention of as many people hearing it as possible. (Some bardic abilities are more beneficial when more people hear them, so there’s incentive to gather a large crowd and make sure all can hear.) That’s not terrible, but the tavern isn’t big enough and the acoustics aren’t so poor as to make this a great solution.
At any rate, the discussions seems to have been tabled for now. I guess I’ll see what happens at the next event. In the meantime, I’m curious to hear other people’s thoughts. So feel free to post- do you find hearing real world names of places (and people and institutions and… whatever else) to be anti-immersive? Does it jar you out of character? Or do you find your brain can gloss over it, especially when music is involved? And if it does jar you out of character, is it ever worth it for the atmosphere the music creates? Anyone tried any solutions, like filking (re-writing the lyrics to fit in-game)?