As a follow-up to last week’s Inside the Bardic Circle, I felt it was only fitting to showcase our current Queen’s Bard, Laila al-Sanna’ al-Andalusiyya. I am very honored to share her interview with you. After moving from Caid a few years ago, Laila has been active in our kingdom developing some exciting ideas like promoting and educating the populace about Ladino repertoire and organizing the East Kingdom’s very own early opera group, Opera dell’Est. Not only is she an incredible singer and performer, she is also a well-informed researcher with a huge wealth of early music and medieval Persian and Shepardic music knowledge. An infectious personality, a beautiful operatic voice, and a love for early music, Laila is a wonderful asset to the East and a perfect choice for our Queen’s Bard. I hope you will enjoy reading this interview as much as I had making it.
1. What is your favorite word? Why?
That’s such a difficult question to answer… As a writer, I am in love with words, and it feels like you’re asking me to pick one of my children! My favorite words are beautiful to say – round and full in the mouth. I am in love with the sound of certain words. I can’t narrow it down to one, but here are three of my favorites:
Luminous – L and m and n are all such musical consonants, and the whole word has a glorious radiance to it.
Profound – I love the meaning AND the sound. The diphthong in the second syllable is lovely to pronounce.
Feck – That’s Irish for… well, I think you can guess. I know that probably seems like a departure from the other two, but I love how expressive it is. The difference in the vowel somehow makes it seem less profane, and the Irish accent (you really can’t say it without one) makes it extra fun to say!
2. What is your least favorite word? Why?
I think I have to call out a category, rather than a specific word. I don’t like words that are used to denigrate groups of people – slurs and misappropriated terminology, for example. The words that bother me the most I don’t even want to list, because their use is triggering for some people.
I also really dislike the word “bossy.” It is predominantly used to discourage women and girls from rising to positions of leadership by shaming them for expressing the very same traits that would be praised in men and boys.
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Life! I am constantly inspired. I keep about a dozen different lists for things like song ideas, research questions, story premises, and creative projects, and I add to them all the time. In the modern world, I’m a musical theatre writer/composer, so these lists are like a seed bank that I can draw from whenever I need to.
I am particularly inspired by stories about powerful women, queer people and social activists. I tend toward epic drama with a sense of humor. I like characters who don’t fit society’s standard for a hero – prostitutes, transgender people, social misfits, and the like.
As a spectator, I am turned on by emotional honesty, daring choices, and commitment to craft. It also makes me giddy inside to see size-inclusive casting, and disabled people in not-specifically-disabled roles.
4. What turns you off?
I don’t ever need to see another white savior / male savior story. I am sickened by the “nice guy who gets friend-zoned” narrative. (I think Ross from Friends was a straight-up abusive sociopath.) Fat jokes make me absurdly angry. So do jokes that dehumanize and de-sexualize disabled people and transgender people.
5. What is your favorite curse word (bonus points if it is a period appropriate slur)?
Oh no! I already used my favorite swear word! Well, since you asked so nicely, I suppose I can come up with a few more fun period curses… Here are three of my favorites:
Thingumbob – Sure, it sounds innocent enough, but in period it referred to a man’s testicles, and apparently could also be used as a super-gross way to talk about someone whose name you didn’t know.
Sard – Basically, the period way to say fuck. It’s fun to say! And it dates back to at least the 10th century!
Snoutband – Mansplainers sucked in the middle ages as much as they do now. A snoutband was a jerk who was always interrupting people just to contradict and criticize.
6. What bardic-related sound or noise do you love?
Well, nothing beats a great voice. I mean, I know that’s sort of a generic answer, but I am, and have always been, enamored with good singing. I particularly love well-executed vocal harmonies.
7. What bardic-related sound or noise do you hate?
Bad tuning and poor pitch are very difficult for me, especially in harmonies, where they create a marked and unpleasant dissonance. (I like dissonance when applied carefully, but accidental dissonance is very hard on my ears.)
8. What area of bardic performance (other than those that you already working in) would you like to attempt?
I’d like to learn how to play a portable instrument. I play piano, harpsichord, virginal, and other keyboard instruments, but those are not particularly useful in the context of the SCA. For a long time I’ve wanted to learn to play the qanun, which is an 81-string zither used in classical Arabic, Turkish, and Persian music. Unfortunately, it has a rather delicate sound and requires intense concentration to play, which might preclude me from using it to accompany myself. I might be happier with an oud in the long run.
9. What area of bardic performance (other than those that you already working in) would you not like to attempt?
Storytelling. It’s just not my thing. People frequently suggest that I add some stories to my repertoire. In fact, somebody at K&Q Bardic told me they wished I had done a story instead of a monologue in Round 2, but acting and storytelling are very different skillsets, and storytelling is just not in my wheelhouse.
10. Your name is called to appear in court. What would you hope to hear Their Majesties say?
Oh that’s easy. I’d want to hear them say that after all my years of teaching, performing, and researching period performance, they want to recognize my accomplishments by inviting me to join the Order of the Laurel. I mean, isn’t that what every serious SCA artist wants to hear?
What are you currently working on?
I’ve got a lot of projects in the works right now.
- Composing some new music for Coronation, and coordinating the entertainment for both courts and feast. (Margreþa la Fauvelle is taking care of the instrumental music.)
- Organizing Fighter and Consort poems for Crown Tournament. (If you want to write a poem, please get in touch ASAP!)
- Planning a “Comedy Bard” competition for the Great Northern Thyng.
- Learning Classical Arabic so I can translate a bunch of medieval Arabic music theory texts.
- Programming future Opera dell’Est performances.
- Ongoing research on period Ladino and Arabic music.
- Continuing to build out my repertoire. Right now I have about 120 minutes of period music, but it’s dominated by Ladino music. I’m working on diversifying my performance repertoire.
How long have you been playing in the SCA? How long have you been a bard? Have you won any competitions or championships? Is there any other interesting information you would like to add?
I’ve been playing in the SCA since I was 13 years old – that’s 25 years now. I started out in Western Seas (Honolulu, Hawaii), and then moved to mainland Caid when I was 18. I’ve been a bard the whole time. Actually, I was a professional studio musician and an experienced actor even before that, so you could say that my bard-ing pre-dates my SCA-ing.
I was the third LyonBard (the baronial bardic champion for Lyondemere, in Caid), and the second Bard of Caid, before moving to the East Kingdom and becoming Queen’s Bard.
I’ve won a lot of competitions. I’ve lost a lot competitions too. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that bardic is extremely subjective. It’s really important not to let yourself get crushed by losing a competition or receiving a harsh critique.
That’s not to say that you should ignore honest critique, though! In order to grow as artists, we have to be able to receive feedback without getting defensive. Not every person’s opinion is valuable, but you won’t know whose words will spark an artistic breakthrough unless you listen. Try to be open to growth, and to accept input without taking it personally.
My other big piece of advice is that your journey is yours alone. Trying to compare your path to mine or Margreþa’s or Geoffrey’s or Bird’s is pointless and exhausting. We all start from different places and face different challenges. We have different backgrounds and advantages, strengths and weaknesses. You do you, and the rest will follow.