It occurred to me that before I posted another ‘Making of Cantata’ post where I blamed part of the Coral Palace culture on the filk community, that I really ought to explain what the filk community is. Especially since a lot of non-filkers define filk as “song parodies about scifi, computer games and other geeky things”. Which doesn’t quite cover enough ground to explain the Filk-Cantata connection.
As a young reader, I delighted in the bits of poetry/verse that I found in some of the books I read: Tolkien and McCaffrey come most particularly to mind. I would often memorize the poems, and even sometimes improvise tunes for some of the ones that were supposed to be songs, so that I could sing them. When I started writing, I sometimes included songs in my own stories. The “folk songs” I made up for use in one particular story with a historical setting (I wouldn’t do that now, I don’t think, I would use actual existing folksongs) I even created tunes for, thinking that because they were “folk songs” I might get a chance to sing them to someone sometime. You never know. But there didn’t seem to be any possibility of finding an audience for the more “fantasy” type songs, so I didn’t bother making up tunes for those.
And then I went to college, and the guy who would eventually become my husband took me to my first ever science fiction convention, and in the evening, even though I said I was tired, he insisted I attend something called ‘filking’. “You’ll love it!” He assured me. I walked in and discovered a group of people sitting roughly in a circle, and singing a song called “Pride of Chanur”, about the science fiction books featuring a race of intelligent cat-like people by C.J. Cherryh, with a tune that I had never heard before… but luckily I’m good at picking up tunes, and in no time I was singing along with the chorus. We went on to sing many other songs, some of which, like “Pride of Chanur”, were songs with original words and original tunes, some of which were new lyrics to familiar tunes, and some of which took poems from out of books and set them to music. Clearly I had found ‘my people’.
And when the convention came to an end, I went home and started writing tunes for my “fantasy” songs.
So: the filk community is a musical community that grew up around science fiction and fantasy conventions. (It is now large enough to hold conventions of its own.) There are two key elements to the filk community: the interest in fantasy and science fiction and related topics, and the emphasis on participation in music rather than just passively listening. Everyone is encouraged to sing. Everyone is encouraged to write songs. If you can’t do tunes, write new words to someone else’s tune. If you can’t do lyrics, write music to someone else’s lyrics. Take a turn singing in the circle. If you know the song someone else is singing, join in. Learn to play an instrument. Don’t just be a fan of filk, become a filker.