Not just any other LOTRO band?
Edit 23. april: The spring project covered by the post was performed last Saturday. If yer missed out, miss Holly put together this moving drawing from it.
The Return of the Flute
Things are busy for The Brandy Badgers. The annual “spring project” is just around the corner; a full-fledged musical which involves zany dialogue, sentimental songs and lots of mysterious references to singing badgers in the Shire forests.
But just who are The Brandy Badgers, and how do they go about making music in LOTRO? I thought I’d tell yer a little about our approach, because it probably varies a fair bit from the other musical bands in LOTRO.
How did The Brandy Badgers come to be?
First of all, the Badgers isn’t really a music band. We’re a musical collective, sort of a creative pool of the musicians who are members of the Grand Order of the Lost Mathom. The Order is a hobbit roleplaying kinship on the Laurelin server, and we generally try hard to stay in-character no matter what we do: Basically acting as Shire hobbits whatever happens in the game.
The Badgers were set up back in 2010, when The Songburrow Strollers was the main kinship band of the Grand Order. The Strollers were a small outfit, 3-4 musicians playing mostly lore-friendly Celtic folk music (reels, jigs, hornpipes, waltzes), and they reached some notoriety when they near brought down the Landroval server during Weatherstock 2011 by playing “The Bywater Bouncing Song”. However, there were a lot of other musically-inclined hobbits in the Order, and the Strollers couldn’t realistically accommodate them all. Hence, the Badgers were set up as a wider collective where all could participate.
Another reason for establishing the Badgers was to explore music that might seem outlandish/out of character in a Tolkien universe. Remember, we’re hobbit roleplayers, playing on a roleplaying server, where players meet to immerse themselves in Tolkien’s world. In the early days on Laurelin, choosing lore-appropriate music was a big thing (and for some of us, it still is). However, the Badgers wanted to test the waters to see if it was possible to fit other styles of music in a Tolkien world than the traditional Strollers jig-and-waltz fare.
To do this, we decided to draw up such a silly backstory for the Badgers that we’d obviously be tongue-in-cheek in Tolkien lore-land. We wrote the tales of mad old Jethro (very much inspired by Jethro Tull, an early Badgers favourite), who in the days of yore ran into some badgers in the Shire forests who danced to his flute. From this early encounter, Shire folklore has it that every spring, badgers wake from their winter rest to greet the warmer weather with song. Of course, no hobbit have ever seen these mystical badgers (although, some claim that they do). Every year, though, the Laurelin hobbits go into the woods to search for them anyway.
So, the Badgers are sort of a tribute band to the singing badgers of old. Then, it is no wonder that they sometimes play music that might seem strange to the average hobbit ear.
Concerts no, rehearsals yay
What is the Badgers approach to playing music in LOTRO? Our general guidelines are as follows:
- We never use dual-boxing alts to help fill the band. First of all, we don’t really need to, since interest in the Badgers is generally high, with lots of musicians playing. Second, I personally feel that music should be fun and interactive, not a hectic ALT-TAB-athon where players need to rotate between alts to prepare songs. I firmly believe that if you have just one character to control, you can relax and join the banter and interact with the audience instead of rushing to keep up.
- We believe that most music styles can work in LOTRO. However, song lyrics is a different matter. This is why we often spend a lot of time to write in-character, Tolkien-friendly lyrics to our songs, more often than not relating to the good life in the Shire. Simbo’s Poetical plugin is our weapon of choice when “singing” these lyrics in-game.
- Because we’re not really a band, the Badgers never ever give concerts. We rehearse a lot instead. Every other Monday, we meet to try out new songs and play through old favourites. These rehearsals are rarely announced, but everyone who comes by are of course welcome to stop and listen to us.
- We want to be scalable and flexible, in the sense that we can play together no matter how many show up. Hence, we have songs that are playable from 2 to 13 musicians. Many songs also have several possible parts setups. For example, a particular song can be played by between 6-12 musicians by adding different parts. Nimelia’s update to the SongbookBB plugin has really helped us do this (hint hint: more updates just might be coming too).
- We want to be inclusive, in the sense that every member of the Badgers can send in songs for us to try out, write song lyrics and contribute in special projects.
This helps keep things loose, relaxed and friendly. Should a musician play the wrong song or drop the instrument during a performance, we’re able to roleplay around it and have fun (although, of course they have to perform the Badgers dance of shame while the others play on…)
Still, a few times a year, we pool our creative forces together for some special projects.
Projects and performances
Over the year, the Badgers take part in a few larger performances:
- Every September 2nd, we arrange Bards Day on Laurelin. Which for all practical purposes is a concert, but since we’re Badgers, it is really a rehearsal… September 2nd is Tolkien’s date of death, a sad day for lore enthusiasts. However, since 2012, we have turned this day into a celebration of Tolkien’s works in-game, basically by celebrating Ronald Dwale (Tolkien’s in-game alter ego) through his music and poems.
- Every Yule, we go wassailing in Winterhome and in the Shire. In Winterhome, we go playing yule songs for the people who invite us to their festival each year. In the Shire, we visit the local farms and orchards, play music and drink a lot of cider to wish for a grand harvest.
- In January, we usually pay a visit to the Winterstock music festival on Landroval. It is a suitably relaxed, good-natured event, good for sleepy winter badgers.
- And every spring, we perform our grand annual spring project.
The Badgers spring projects
This is where we started, really. In 2011, we wanted to put on a performance with the Badgers. Still, we wanted to do something different than just another concert. And this is what we ended up with:
- We chose one band, Jethro Tull, and designed a show around their music.
- We wrote up the backstory about the Shire badgers who greet the spring with song
- In March, we invited other hobbits along to go look for these badgers
- We dragged them far into Bindbole forest (which was a bit of an adventure of its own), then swapped into costumes and performed our songs for them.
- Then, we left it up to the participants whether they believed these were real badgers or just some silly hobbits dressed up in costumes.
This is generally the playbook we follow to this day: Music from one artist, performed in an off-broadway-place in the Shire, revolving around the badgers mythology. What has changed is the scope and ambition of the projects. Today’s projects are more fully-fledged musicals, developed as follows:
- In early January, we decide which artist to design the spring project around this year. Ideally, this has to be a favourite of many Badgers.
- Then, we start work on converting lots of songs.
- Early to mid February, we have somewhere between 25-40 songs; far too many to fit in a 2 hour musical. Hence, we get the Grand Badgers Vote-off, where the members have to vote for their favourite songs. Being roleplayers, this time of year is lots of fun, since everyone goes to great lengths to try buy more votes than the mean project leader (me…) will give them.
- After the voting, we end up with between 10-15 songs to write a musical around.
- Now the work starts in earnest: We draw up a tentative storyline, sort the songs, develop possible scenes and try make things come together in a complete script. Then we start writing song lyrics for most of the songs.
- We’re now typically between mid-March and mid-April, and we do dress rehearsals, tinker with the script, select costumes and prepare for the performance.
- The final script is usually around 6000 words, the performance lasts ca. 2 hours.
- And… after all this work, we perform our musical one time only.
Aye. No Badgers spring project has ever been repeat-performed. If you want to be sure to catch the story, you have to be there the night we perform.
And this year’s project is just coming up. Like we did in 2011, we’ll play Jethro Tull songs, not least because Tull celebrates their 50th anniversary these days. However, in 2011 we just played the songs – this time we perform a full musical. One with drama, intrigue, mysteries and biscuit-eating badgers. Hope to see yer in Overhill on Saturday April 21st!
So, the Badgers are an odd lot. We have found a way that works for us, based on a few guidelines and the desire to have a lot of fun together. Would it work for others? Perhaps, perhaps not. Although, if you’d like to know more about our approach, please don’t hesitate to be in touch. Just leave your pawprints and questions in the comments below!
Oh, and as a preview, here are some of the favourite songs we play in-game. One day in the future, we might even tell yer why these songs are favourites. Stay tuned!
Past Badgers spring projects
- 2011: Jethro Tull (music only)
- 2012: Blackmore’s Night (musical)
- 2013: The Rolling Stones
- 2014: Creedence Clearwater Revival
- 2015: Paul McCartney
- 2016: Bruce Springsteen
- 2017: David Bowie