Life in the Castle

IMG_0671No, this blog is not about Star Wars. This blog is about my recent (as in I just got home Friday) trip to Germany with my husband as Guests of Honor at FilkContinental. FilkContinental is THE European filk music convention. It’s held every year at Castle Fruesberg—now a very nice youth hostel on a hill high above Kirchen, Germany. The picture at left is the front gate of the castle. Below is a shot of the inner courtyard.

When we arrived, a group of middle-schoolers was having a last romp through the courtyard and corridors. It was like being at Hogwarts the day before Christmas break (except that the staircases, thank God, stayed put). They even had their own versions of Severus Snape and Professor McGonigall watching over them and looking … well, exhausted.

What is filk, you ask?IMG_0672

Let me quote NIck Smith, music programming maven for LosCon (a gencon held over Thanksgiving weekend in LA): “Well, it’s sort of like folk music. It is a mixture of song parodies and original music, humorous and serious, about subjects like science fiction, fantasy, computers, cats, politics, the space program, books, movies, TV shows, love, war, death. . . Filk music started off forty or fifty years ago, at science fiction conventions, where people got together late at night to have good old-fashioned folk music song circles. Well, late night circles being what they are, some folks got a little silly and started singing song parodies about their favorite SF books and authors. Fans started writing song parodies about themselves or each other. Some started composing serious songs about favorite topics. Some authors started composing original songs for their books. If the author didn’t list a tune, fans made up one. Sometimes two. Sometimes several.”

There are filk songs for just about every SF topic and work. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5 etc. There are dealer tables at every convention where fans can buy filk CDs, and there is even a filkish “Grammy” award called the Pegasus with which Jeff and I have been honored twice.
We have a sort of rock and roll take on filk. We take classic rock favorites such as “Hotel California,” “Nights in White Satin,” and “Come Together,” and put them through the amazing machine that is my husband’s brain. They come out on the other side as “Hotel Dealer Floor,” “Knight’s in White Satin” and “Come to Mordor.” These are included on our filk albums RetroRocket Science and Aliens Ate My Homework and they are the reason we got invited to Germany in the first place.

MobiusStreet_fullWe got really cool badges that looked just like the cover of our most recent non-parody album, Möbius Street, and were warmly welcomed in all ways by the very loving European fans. We did two hour-long concerts that were a mix of our parody and non-parody music (aka “the serious stuff”) and I have to say, we’ve never done so many encores. It was fabulous. Another US musician, Nancy Louise Freeman, was there, so we combined on stage to do her brilliant “Leather Pants of Evil” (a Buffy the Vampire filk that is covered on the Harmony Heifers CD.)

I go to be part of a barbershop choir that sang parodies of “Shenandoah” (“Anduin”) and “Tell Me Why” (same title, lyrics from the POV of a Slytherin alumnus explaining why the other houses at Hogwarts suck.) And I did a late night reading of “The Accumulating Man”—which is my story for BVC Press’s soon-to-be-released steampunk antho, Shadow Conspiracy. Jeff did a couple of parody writing and guitar workshops that were well-attended and great fun (even at 9 AM after being up singing until the wee hours), and we offered a special preview CD of our next parody album (Jeff & Maya’s Grated Hits) as an item for the Interfilk auction. This fund-raiser is a special feature of every filk convention. It’s how the filkish community raises money to send musicians around the world to share their music with other communities.

FC_Maya on stage1FC_Jeff onstage3Which brings me to the institution at the heart of the filk convention. Yeah, the panels are great, the concerts are amazing, and the auction is a real hoot, but the heart of any filk gathering is the Circle. This is where we fill a room with people and instruments and play to each other, sing with each other, until the cows and chickens have come home to roost. There is often a collection of chocolate and other edibles in the middle of the room. There can be guitars, recorders, banjos, harps, fiddles, flutes, mandolins and rhythm instruments of all kinds. The songs are funny, sad, thought provoking, life-affirming and groan-worthy. A lovely musical stew—just add harmony, mix well and by the end of the con, you have a family.

Filk is why most of my best friends live in other states and other countries and why every convention is a homecoming of sorts.
Where did the word “filk” come from? It was a typo. An accident. A simple slip of the finger to make an “o” and “i.” To my mind, it was one of the happiest accidents ever.

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