When I was twelve years old, I went to my first Renaissance Faire. It was pure magic. Archers, jousters, costumes, jugglers, people in character. I enjoyed all of it.
There was a man standing beneath an oak tree wearing a poet shirt, a vest and loose velvet pants playing a lute and singing. I was transfixed by the music. The songs he sang were songs of courtly love. They were poems set to music. Sometimes they were heroic, other times funny, a little dirty, or even a little sad. In them all was love.
I do not know how many songs I sat there for. I listened entranced. I could not believe the front row seat I had to this oak tree performance. The man looked at me and asked me my name. I gave it enthusiastically. In character, he said, "Master Patrick, this last song is for you, lad."
15 years before Loreena McKennit would set the poem to music, he played his lute and sang, "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes. For the first time in my life a poem and a song would make me cry. The landlord's black eyed daughter and the highwayman died horribly with their love incomplete and unfulfilled, but their love was true. The injustice of it all burned in my throat and left a hole in my heart.
For the rest of the day, I was less interested in the swordplay and more interested in the stories of the jousts and the fights as a true knight would fight for the honor of a lady. The love story mattered more than the dragons.
As we were nearing the end of the day, the man under the tree was walking about. He saw me and smiled as he knelt before me and said, "Master Patrick, I was hoping I would see you again. I have a gift for the young troubadour."
"What is a troubadour?" I asked.
"A troubadour is a traveling musician who sings of courtly love, Master Patrick. Some believe we started our craft in the south of France and others think we are much more ancient than that. We remind people that love is the most important thing in the world. It is splendid and divine. The philosophers think too hard and pride themselves on frivolous matters, the bishops and priests would have us not think at all and kings merely want blind obedience. But love. Love, Master Patrick, when it is true, when it is right, is a force that can make men and women stronger than they realize. It frees them no matter how strong their bonds. It can also destroy us when it is lost. It is something that only the lovers and the poets can understand. It is the troubadour's calling and mission to remind the world to love."
"Wow!" was all I could think to say. I was in wonder that there were people who had such an important task.
"Master Patrick," he said, "I was going to get you a pan flute, but I am but a poor troubadour and you must be Irish. I've never met an Irish troubadour or a joglar, but I am sure he would use a tin whistle." With that, he handed me a cheap tin whistle. He told me that I was charged with the task of learning the art of the troubadour and gaining a mastery of language so I could tell people the importance of love. He mussed my hair with his hand, stood, and walked away.
From that point of my meeting my first troubadour, my love of music had taken a new direction. I gravitated to lyrics that were poetic and sang of love. I fell for the artists who were storytellers as opposed to a clever hook. I learned the troubadour would also sing of history and the truth of us all. They sometimes held a mirror to us to show us the distortions we have become and through love, what we could be.
Now, in my mid forties, I have the heart of the troubadour. Love can awaken dead hearts, save lives, free slaves and inspire the courtly love that drives couples to be amazing together.
The truth of the troubadours are always there. Be they under a tree, on a stage or sitting across from you having coffee. Look to the truth of their love stories and be lost in the lesson of their song. Their song and their truth is out there, we just need to listen.