Morning Cry

“Goooooooood morning, Caid! This is Cormac Mór, the Voice of the War, serving Crown and Kingdom by waking you up every single morning…in soothing, dulcet tones!”

This refrain has marked the start of the day for attendees of Caid’s Great Western War for over a decade; more recently, Pennsic War has enjoyed my particular brand of camp cry, though I can’t always make the trip out there. For the benefit of those in kingdoms I cannot regularly visit, and in the hopes that I may eventually be able to sleep in at a war, I offer this article on how to successfully prepare and deliver an effective and memorable morning cry.

The Job

The task of a cry herald is to get important information about the event to its attendees as quickly and effectively as possible. The sole and exclusive measure of your success as a cry herald is whether the attendees you serve receive the information you are appointed to provide. To most people, this job appears to be very straightforward: get the announcements for your shift, then read them aloud in different places around the site. Couldn’t be simpler, right?

Well, not so fast. You can’t just start talking without warning and expect to effectively communicate. There’s an important structure to it.

The Structure of Cry

The basic structure of a cry is as follows1:

  1. The Hook
  2. The Meat
  3. The Sign-Off

The “hook” is the attention-grabber, typically the loudest part of your routine. It is the signal to your audience that you have an announcement to make, and that they should stop what they’re doing to listen, or at least quiet down in courtesy to others. The simplest form of hook, frequently used at smaller events and for shorter announcements, is “Oyez! Oyez!” or “My lords and ladies!” Such hooks are typically drawn out to sound different from normal chatter, the better to catch the ear of the audience.

The “meat” is the information you’re trying to transmit: “Grand court will be at 5:00 PM – the shower trucks are off-limits until further notice – class sign-ups are now available in the Arts and Sciences area – move your vehicles to the parking lot – do NOT touch the generators!” This is by far the most important part of your routine, and the raison d’être of a cry herald.

The “sign-off” is your signal that your announcement is at an end, and the populace can go about their business. The simplest form of sign-off is “thank you” or a slightly more formal “that is all.”

If you put the elements together, a quick one-announcement cry that you might hear at a non-war event where everyone is close by might be: “My lords and ladies! Gate will close in fifteen minutes! If you have not yet paid your site fee, please do so now! Thank you!” But wars and other large camping events are entirely different environments, and require a stronger approach.

Effective Hooks

People love to know who delivers their news. From Edward Murrow and Walter Cronkite to Barbara Walters and Jon Stewart, the most successful broadcasters gain the trust of their audiences by being a consistent and reliable name and face of the news. For morning cry, it’s no different. In the time that I’ve been in the SCA, war attendees have consistently demonstrated a preference for knowing the name of the herald doing morning cry, and for having that herald do the cry for them for the entirety of the war. Simply by being there on a consistent basis, a cry herald builds a rapport with their audience. By identifying themselves by name, or at least by using a consistent routine, a cry herald can further develop their place in the hearts and minds of those they serve.

With that in mind, consider carefully how you want to start your hook; this will become someone’s de facto alarm clock, and (provided it’s unique) your “signature.” You will say this phrase several times during your shift, and countless times over the course of several wars.

A hook should be long enough to give people a chance to focus, without wasting their time or your voice.  Generally, 5-7 seconds is a sufficient length for a war-venue hook. While it can have some anachronistic flavor (my hook starts with an homage to Adrian Cronauer of “Good Morning, Vietnam” fame) it shouldn’t be so obtrusive as to pull the attendees out of the Middle Ages. It should also hold up to multiple repetitions (I’m surprised at how long the “waking you up every single morning…in soothing, dulcet tones” shtick has held up over the years), so consider rehearsing potential hooks in front of a crowd of SCA friends.

Finally, the hook should be both friendly and family-friendly. I cannot stress enough the importance of this last point. As a crier you are a public face for the war, and you do a disservice to the event and the attendees by using questionable language or harsh attitudes in your patter. Be warm and welcoming, fully aware that half of your audience aren’t “morning people.” If you’re not sure whether your routine is appropriate, present it first to the event steward or kingdom seneschal for approval.

Some sample hooks include:

  • Oyez! Oyez! The sun is up, the birds are singing, and war is upon us!
  • It’s eight o’clock in the morning, and if I have to be up, so do you!
  • [Loud musical fanfare, performed either by the cry herald or by a cadre of musicians who enjoy such shenanigans. Trumpets are popular, but I am frequently accompanied by shawm, rauschpfeife, and rommelpot.]

Better Announcements

Once you have the attention of your audience, you should proceed swiftly into the meat of your routine. Announcements may be supplied well in advance by war stewards, but are usually written in a binder at Headquarters2 either the night before or early in the morning by exhausted event staff who have little experience in either public speaking or penmanship. As such, you will probably need to rewrite the text before your shift. Arrive early enough to do this, at least 20 minutes in advance. If the staff are on radios, it is polite to put out a last call for announcements for that shift.

A good announcement is short, clear, and free of unnecessary details. It tells your audience the basic information they need to know, and where to find more information if necessary. Here are some examples of announcements requested by staff, and the same information rewritten for cry:

☙ ❧

Original request: The battlemaster wants people to know that armor inspection will begin at 9:30 on the battlefield, with first scenarios starting at 10:00, as scheduled. We will start with an open field battle, followed by bridge skirmishes at 11:30. We will break for lunch at 1:00, then resume with castle siege at 2:00, ending in a 45 minute resurrection battle at 4:00.
Final script: Armor inspection will begin at 9:30. See your gate book for combat schedule.
Explanation: Unless specifically directed by the event steward, there is no reason for a cry herald to read portions of the gate book to the populace, including schedules or scenario descriptions. The most immediate piece of information for fighters is when armor inspection will occur. They can either look up the rest, or head to the battlefield and be directed from there.

☙ ❧

Original request: Your presence is humbly requested at the third annual Saint Joseph of Arimathea Pas d’Armes, occurring this afternoon in the central courtyard of the most illustrious Barony of Lilliput. Please join us for a day of fun and revelry, where the best-dressed fighter will win a prize of a magnificent haddock wrapped in shimmering samite. All spectators will have an opportunity to vote for their favorite fighter’s outfit by placing a chaplet of daisies around said fighter’s helm. Mimosas and samosas will be served.
Final script: The Saint Joseph of Arimathea Pas d’Armes will occur this afternoon at the Barony of Lilliput’s encampment near the northern showers. Please go to headquarters for more details.
Explanation: flowery language is great for court, but obfuscates the message during a cry. The very basics of this particular announcement are that a pas d’armes is occurring, that Lilliput is hosting it, and that it is occurring this afternoon. The details of the pas itself are unimportant to those who are not attending, and those who are interested in a pas will seek out the information. The final announcement included a landmark for those who don’t know where Lilliput’s camp is; this is more pertinent information than the type of flowers being used in the contest, and so was added for clarity.

☙ ❧

Original request: Herald: we need vol’s for porters, gate, headquarters, and constables today. Thanks! ~Volunteer Coordinator
Final script: Volunteers make the war run. Do your part! We are particularly in need of volunteers for Porters! Gate! Headquarters! And Constables! Sign up at headquarters!
Explanation: The most important recurring announcement at war is solicitation of volunteers for vital functions. As such, the phrasing of the announcement should be as consistent and effective as your hook. Take your time and separate the different roles that need volunteers.

☙ ❧

Original request: Baron JimBob’s Discount Feastgear is running a sale today on pewter tankards. Buy two, get a third free!
Final script: N/A
Explanation: As the voice of the event, you are a de facto representative of the SCA, the kingdom, and the hosting branch. It is therefore inappropriate to do private advertising. A similar but appropriate situation for an announcement would be that the hosting branch is running a donational potluck.

☙ ❧

Explanation: Every once in a while, an announcement will be perfect as written.

☙ ❧

As a rule of thumb, each announcement should be the length of a Twitter post (that is, no more than 140 characters). If the event steward is amenable to the restriction, you might consider requiring that all requests for announcements be formatted with that limitation in mind.

Never forget: these announcements are why you are doing cry. The successful delivery of the “meat” is your sole and exclusive mission.

Sign-Off With Style

Now that your announcements are ended, it’s time to end your presentation and move on. But while a simple “That is all, thank you, and enjoy your war” might suffice, there is much more that can be done. Just as a hook is designed to get your listener’s attention, the promise of a humorous sign-off can keep them listening through the end of the announcements.

Humor is a difficult medium. Most jokes are funny at someone’s expense, whether the target is an individual or a group. Sometimes the cost is low and the humor high; other times, it’s the opposite. When writing a sign-off, it’s important to know who bears the cost of the laughs, and whether they’re willing and/or able to pay. To that end, keep the jokes light and family-friendly. Don’t tell any jokes about an individual or group that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to their face (because you probably will, at some point during your route).

My favorite pattern for sign-offs is that of a sponsorship. “Today’s cry is brought to you by…” In this pattern, the “sponsor” is typically some aspect of SCA culture (an officer, a peerage order, a role e.g. trash crew, or “product” e.g. alcohol or duct tape). The sponsor’s name is followed by a funny slogan relating to it: “…brought to you by alcohol. Alcohol: it seemed like a good idea at the time!” This is a versatile and instantly recognizable pattern that’s very easy to use. It’s far from the only viable option, however. Here are some other examples:

  • “If you’ve enjoyed this cry, this has been Cormac Mor, the Voice of the War. If you haven’t, this has been Paul fitz Denis, Crescent Principal Herald.”
  • “We now return you to your regularly scheduled hangover, already in progress.”
  • “The event staff would like to remind attendees that rain, thunder and lightning are signs from the gods that the war is going well. If your camp is flooded, rejoice in the abundance of divine blessing!”

Finally, be sure to express appreciation for your audience, and release them to their day. Something along the lines of “That is all, thank you, and have a pleasant war” should do nicely. 

Before You Perform

Use the restroom before your shift. Wear comfortable walking shoes that are appropriate to the terrain, as you are likely to have a long route. Your garb should be loose and warm enough to protect you from the elements.

As you’re walking to your first stop for your shift, warm up your voice. There are plenty of vocal warm-ups available online; choose one that works for you. Before I do morning cry, I:

  • stretch facial muscles through repeated shifts between wide open-jawed smiles and tight pursed lips
  • hum and/or sing scales and arpeggios, working down from a comfortable mid-range into a deeper register
  • run through classic enunciation exercises e.g. “she sells seashells by the seashore,” “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,” or “Amidst the mists and coldest frosts, with stoutest wrists and loudest boasts, he thrusts his fists against the posts, and still insists he sees the ghosts”

Remember that your performance should use good vocal techniques3; relax your vocal chords, project from your diaphragm, speak slowly enough to be understood, and never yell.

Gauging Volume and Range

An experienced vocal herald knows the distance their voice can be heard and understood when they are in good voice, and can determine a proper interval between announcements to get better coverage. However, after four days at war, no vocal herald is in good voice, and unless the herald is a morning person (I am not) they probably don’t have sufficient cognitive capacity that early in the morning to gauge on their own how far their voice is carrying.

Fortunately, years and years of cry heralds have successfully trained the populace to respond to a sign-off with the response of “thank you, herald!” Once you’ve completed your announcements, listen for the acknowledgments to figure out where your next cry is going to be. If people at your event don’t respond automatically, walk to the furthest point that you believe your voice carried during the previous announcement, and ask the nearest person whether they heard and understood you. If not, take a few steps back and repeat your script.

Continue to gauge your vocal projection and range throughout your shift. As your voice warms up, your range will increase; as you get more tired, your range will decrease. Take it slow, and err on the side of more repetition. Don’t forget to project your voice, pushing your breath from the diaphragm, and avoid yelling. And remember that lower pitches generally carry farther, but you’re more likely to be understood if you cry within a vocal range that you find most comfortable.

Care For Your Voice

Singing loudly around a campfire on a cold night, breathing in dust and wood smoke, is an important part of the SCA war experience. It’s also a quick way to ruin your voice for your cry shift a few hours later. A raspy throat decreases your volume and range, and continued abuse of your vocal chords could lead to permanent damage. Take care of your voice during the war. Drink hot tea with citrus and/or honey (a small dash of rum or whiskey added to it can help relax your throat muscles). Drink lots of water. Avoid dairy products, as they tend to cause phlegm buildup. Avoid super-cold water before your cry. Carry throat lozenges with you during the war, and use as necessary. Be careful about the external temperatures and smoke inhalation. Most importantly, if you are sick, do not under any circumstances perform cry!

Thank You, Herald!

As a cry herald, you are performing a vital service to the war and its attendees, and doing so in a way that could easily make you a household name in your region. Remember your duty to disseminate information, be gracious to those who do not wake up easily, and above all, have fun!

  1.  These terms are entirely my own coinage, and should not in any way be considered historically accurate.
  2.  In Caid, cry is usually organized at “Headquarters,” a central pavilion that hosts volunteers, event stewards, constables, ice and firewood sales, and other essential functions of the war. Wars in your kingdom may run cry from heralds point, info point, or another location altogether. Check with the war steward for more information.
  3.  There are articles on vocal technique elsewhere on the internet, including reputable organizations like Toastmasters; I will not attempt to re-create the wheel here.