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Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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Welcome to my Filk FAQ! If you stumbled here accidentally and aren't sure what this is all about, feel free to read What Is Filk? first. You can also browse all entries here.


What's the difference between a 'bardic' and a 'chaos' circle?

Just to clarify, a "filk circle" doesn't necessarily have to be a circle, though it is usually shaped that way. A filk circle is a gathering of filkers who wish to make music together, to perform their own music, or a combination of both. Filk circles are generally informal, with everyone being invited to participate, unless otherwise explicitly stated, such as an official convention panel where only certain filkers are performing (with everyone else being in the listening audience).

Chaos filk circles

    In a chaos filk circle, there are no rigid "rules" about who gets to sing. People jump in with a song when they feel they have a good follower to a song that has just been performed, or when they feel like it.

    Because filkers can "follow" with appropriate songs, there is a more natural ebb and flow to the atmosphere and energy in the room.

    In large circles, the more aggressive or outgoing performers tend to be heard more often, and filk-hogging is more of a possibility. Less confident performers, those without instruments, or those sitting further back, are less likely to be able to "jump in" for their turn.

Bardic filk circles

    In a bardic filk circle, there is a regimented system to make sure that everyone who wants to sing gets a chance to sing. The simplest bardic system is just to go around the circle, one person at a time. Each person can pick, pass, or play. "Pick": pick a person to perform (if they're willing), or song for someone else to perform. "Pass": forfeit your turn. "Play": perform a song.

    I've seen poker chips and coloured beads used in bardic circles, with each person being handed one chip or bead. If you want to sing (or pick or pass), you throw your marker into the center of the circle. You can't sing again until everyone has thrown in their marker.

    Everyone who wants to sing gets a chance to sing, including shy or insecure performers who would not have the courage to jump in and sing in a chaos filk circle. There is no filk-hogging.

    Some don't like the regimented system because of the inability to "follow" a song with a related one (the marker system helps in this regard). Also, the predictability of performance order tends to determine the comings and goings of filkers in the circle. It can be humiliating for a less confident filker to find half the people in the circle suddenly deciding to take washroom or chat breaks once they realize that his turn is next.

    Phil Parker points out that the wait for one's turn to sing can be painfully long in large bardic circles. He adds: "One of the major reasons given for why chaos is bad is filk-hogging, but I see much more filk-hogging in bardic circles than in chaos circles. That's because the "pick" requests tend to be directed very strongly to a small number of performers, or in some cases, a single performer. In the bardic circle, there may not be any element of the hogs being pushy or nasty about it, but the end result is the same -- a few people get to sing a lot, and the rest hardly at all."


Welcome to the filk circle by Lee Gold.

Comments? Suggestions? Please post below.

Where can I find filk conventions?

Kay Shapero has an excellent list in her Filk FAQ:

Also see:

Filkish Events Calendar: maintained by Rich Brown and "everyone who adds their housefilk, filkish party, filk-friendly con, etc., etc. to the calendar". You can enter your filkish event, which will be posted after approval.

Interfilk's list of filk conventions

Google directory of filk organizations/events

Please post suggestions/corrections below, thanks.

Any tips on how to make friends at filk conventions?

"I've been to a a number of filk conventions, but seem to be having trouble making friends and usually end up feeling like I'm on the outside, looking in. Everyone already seems to know everyone else. Any advice?"!

Beckett and me

From posts and e-mails I've seen in the past, be assured that you are not the only one who feels this way. Next time you're in a crowded room or hallway at a filk convention, remember that chances are VERY GOOD that at least a few other people in the same room or hallway are wishing they could talk with you (or anyone!) but are too shy or insecure to approach you.

Timing is important, if you choose to approach someone during a convention. If they're already distracted by other people or events, they're probably less likely to want to chat.

Many filk conventions have a con suite (at least in North America), a room whose sole purpose is for casual hanging out and chatting. It usually has nice things to eat and drink as well! People in the con suite are usually there to meet others and chat. Some are probably too shy to start up conversations themselves, so DO be brave and start one up.

Hilltop Girl

Some suggested "icebreaker" topics of conversation with people you don't know that well: their concerts or performances in open filk (only if you heard them and genuinely enjoyed them, of course), what they're wearing (interesting t-shirt slogans, homemade items, funny/beautiful), the food in the con suite, or just ask, "So how are you enjoying the convention?"

Be proactive and establish some connections before the convention. Livejournal is a great way to do this since a sizeable portion of the filk community seems to be on LJ. You don't have to post in your own LJ if you don't feel like it, but having an LJ id is handy for posting comments in other people's journals. However, be sure to include your real name or a photograph if you want people to recognize you at conventions! Alternatively, include your LJ nickname on your badge at conventions.

Illustration Friday: "sorrow"

Set up get-togethers (e.g. meals or coffee) or activities ("let's perform this song together! we'll have to get together for a rehearsal...") before the convention. Some are more open to this than others; I generally don't like booking too many commitments before a convention, for example, because it leaves less room for me to just wander and meet people.

Attend the workshops and other group activities at conventions.

Remember that some people have established close friendships over the years, but because of geography and/or limited finances, only tend to see these friends once or twice a year (or less!) at conventions. They aren't excluding you; they're focusing on each other.

Stepping out of one's comfort zone

Start your own group. There was a time in my own filk history experience where I was too shy to approach the filkers whose company/music I admired, who seemed to have their own already established groups of friends. So instead, I started hanging out with some other people who were around the same level of experience, whose company I found I enjoyed. Some of us drifted apart over the years, but some of our friendships deepened; I now look forward to hanging out with these friends at each convention.

Be aware that if you seem to be excluded from a group, it may not have anything to do with you personally. Some people love gigantic dinner groups, for example, but I don't...if I make dinner plans with certain people, it's usually because I actually want to have a CONVERSATION with them, not just be part of a giant group going to the same restaurant, so I tend to stick to smaller meal outings. This means having to say no sometimes if other people want to come along. I always try to be sensitive to this when I ask if I can join a group as well, asking first if they already have enough people.

Focus on the positive rather than the negative, especially when making public posts between conventions, or con reports. So a convention didn't go exactly the way you had hoped. What did you ENJOY about the convention? Who was responsible for the parts you enjoyed, no matter how small? Acknowledge them publicly, naming names. Or better yet, do this AT the convention. So often the performers get the most positive feedback; purposely approach those who may be more behind-the-scenes (e.g. con suite people, sound tech support, organizers of various fan projects, someone you met in the con suite whose conversation you enjoyed, advice about cat-feeding you appreciated, etc.) and thank them..


I think it's human nature to be drawn to positive rather than negative people. When posting in your LJ, remember that some people may only know you from your LJ, and be wary of establishing a pattern of mainly whinging/whining. Think about it from a reader's point of view: Suppose you're at a convention and you come across two people whose badges have LJ names you recognize (something else to do, if you're on LJ: write your LJ nickname on the badge along with your real name so people can make the connection!). One of these LJ authors, you remember, is (with rare exception) always whining or bitching about how unhappy he is, how horrible the world is, or how angry he is at other people. The other writes about interesting activities or hobbies or things she's read or done, what makes her happy. Which one appeals to YOU more as a potential friend?


If you're rebuffed or fail at making the connection you want, TRY NOT TO TAKE IT PERSONALLY. Conventions are often very intense and hectic, and people's emotions tend to run on the sensitive side because of lack of sleep, particularly near the end of the convention, and over-hyped expectations. Lick your wounds but then move on. Life's too short to dwell on regret and anger. So what if Person X rejected you? It's their loss. They'll realize their mistake later but by then it'll be too late! Or will it? Forgiveness is also a valuable tool in making and keeping friends, I've found, as important as the willingness to apologize when you know you were in the wrong. Be wary about taking personal slights and making them public, even in so-called "locked entries" in LJ. Work things out with the person in private instead, if you consider them a friend.

Overall, don't try to over-think people's reactions or potential reactions. Try to focus on the fact that you ARE an interesting and likable person. Give yourself time, and don't be afraid of approaching people.


From "beige_alert":

I find I've met a lot of people through LJ. I discovered something at this FKO that I hadn't really expected, which is how easy it is to make indirect connections by LJ. I met people I previously knew only as commenters in other people's livejournals, and people who knew me primarily as a commenter in other livejournals. There were many occasions to say "Oh! You're [ljname]!" It's certainly worth introducing yourself to anyone you recognize this way even if you don't know the person at all well.

If it's possible to arrive early on Friday and stay until Monday the extra time is wonderful, too. OVFF I always do by driving all day Friday and arriving as the concerts start, then leaving Sunday by noon. I end up with very little time to talk to anybody. FKO is farther away for me, so that's just not possible. Friday early afternoon it was almost inevitable I'd be hanging out with most of nMC---not many other people there yet---and then there was dinner with new friends on Sunday night, more filk, and more time for goodbyes Monday morning. It's not always possible, of course, but it's so much easier to be sociable when there are no concerts in progress, just everyone chatting and maybe looking for food. Even at OVFF, some of my best social experiences have been not going to the banquet and just hanging out in the con suite during one of the very few times on Saturday when nothing else is going on.

It gets easier to meet people as you meet more people, too. A group with one good friend in it is a group you can introduce yourself to easily.


From Heather, OVFF Volunteer Coordinator:

Volunteer - The best way to make new friends at any con, including filk, is to volunteer your time at the registration desk or in the consuite. Even if you meet no one else (very unlikely), you will have the gratitude of the staff memeber you help, and you will have met at least them. You will talk to them because they need to know who you are and you need to know what they need you to do. Since you already have that dialogue open, mention that you'd like to make some new friends, and as they work with you and get to know your personality, they may be able to point you towards people they think you might enjoy getting to know. Generally speaking, con staff are often very socially connected and many are extroverted and happy to introduce you to new people.

Now, let me remove my vampire teeth, hooking claws, concom badge, and "Volunteer - Ask Me How" T-shirt, and offer some additional ideas:

Be Brave - these are fellow congoers we are talking about here, and most of them have been at least as shy as you in the past. We know what it's like to be new and on the outside. So, talk to us; we don't bite. If that's still too hard, wear a T-Shirt or a pin that says "I'm new and shy; come tell me about filk."

Take Advantage of Social IceBreakers - many filk cons have traditions in place for meeting each other at the beginning of the con. For example, OVFF has The Mad Hatters Tea Party, lately with a game of Encore. Attending the tea and joining the game are great places to meet other people who are also new to the con, especially as more seasoned congoers are too busy saying hi to all the friends they haven't seen all year. Look for the other Looking Lost people, and ask if they are new here too. See your local filk con schedule for each con's opening event, and attend accordingly. Remember to say "Hi, my name is...; what's yours?" to at least one other person.

Games and Fun - It has been my experience that games often happen at filk cons, either scheduled or spontaneous. I've seen everything from poker, bridge, Settler of Catan, Apples to Apples, various PDA-to-PDA games all played at various filk cons in the consuite, the hallways, the back of the main room. If you see a game happening, ask to join in. Games are a great space for meeting new people and making new friends. Another fun social type thing that often happens at filk cons are the Pool Parties and Hot Tub parties. So, come join us in the water, even if that means your fully dressed and only dipping in your toes - we'll chat with you anyway.

Add Value - most things you do that Add Value to the over-all con experience will get you recognition and often make you friends. Some of the Add Values I've seen include: bring copious amounts of truffles and share them with everyone; offer to braid everyone's hair; draw furry versions of various people in the room; take photographs of everything and offer to email them to the subjects involved; entertain the children; pass out kazoos to everyone; etc. If you are a musician, especially if you are a musician who can follow along perfectly or add ornamentation or harmony, and extra-especially if you play something other than guitar (or bagpipes), Do Please play along with those who announce that they like to be played along with. Adding Value to another's music will often win you friends, especially if they adore what you just added to their song. And they will introduce you to other cool musicians; count on it.

On Line - new and interesting ways to make friends in the filk community come up online all the time. First, there's here at the Dandelion Report; we all have email addresses, you can contact many of us via email (yes, it is always ok to email me, especially if you are looking to volunteer at OVFF2004 *grin*) As well, you can chat with many filkers at the excellent chat room; see that site for more details. See also, and Google or ask around for your community's local filk mailing list. These are all excellent ways to make online friends in the filk community, who you can then later meet in person for the first time at a filk convention. And then you can ask them to introduce you to *their* friends; and so on and so on.

As always, Be Brave. Take chances. Say Hi. Sing Along. Look welcoming. Smile. Have a good time :)


From Phil Parker:

It's taken me decades to get to the point where I feel like I'm really surrounded by friends at a con, rather than a sea of strangers with a few people I sort of know. The best advice I can offer, being the sort of person who's really bad at connecting with new people, is twofold:

(1) when you're genuinely interested in something someone else is doing, they'll usually respond positively. Like, they sang a song in circle that really moved you, so you ask them about the song -- did you write it? what inspired it? could you should me how to play it? Or they happen to be carrying a book you don't recognize by an author you love. Or their T-shirt is advertising something that interests you. Don't just try to fake this; if you're a worse-than-average people person, the person you approach will realize something's wrong (even if they're not exactly clear what).

(2) Find something you can show off that people will think is cool. Writing a really good song or performing a really kick-ass version of a familiar song is a good way, but it's not the only thing. If you have a hobby or craft, bring some of your work and show it to people you sort of know, or work on it or display it in a public place. An outstanding costume or a really nifty gadget can attract attention even if you didn't make it. Other people will be interested in coming up and asking you about your cool thing, and since it's something important to you, you'll probably be comfortable talking about it. F'rinstance, I started getting a lot more attention at cons when I started bringing pictures of the big cats I work with.


From Juliana:

Suggestions - find someone that looks approachable... (I for instance do not bite) and ask some questions. I spent the entire con (it seems) asking people who other people were as I've not been getting out much and didn't know many people by face.

Make eye contact with a friendly looking filker and chances are they'll motion you over and point to a seat.

I'm actually quite shy (hard to believe) but put on my "ok lets get going" face and try to connect with people.

It is true that a longstanding convention with many cool kids sometimes feels like it is a group of closed clubs but I know from experience that these are just friends you haven't met yet. It's like performing -- instead of thinking of the circle members as critics -- I try to think of them as people that want me to do my best and who will enjoy the fact that I am doing what I can to share my music and/or performance with them.


From Sherman:

Ask people what new music they've heard recently. After Friday night, ask if anyone's played new pieces at the con.
Tell people if you admire their music, panache, button, craft piece, instrument, earring, or other things that aren't body parts. ("Your knees are like limpid pools" is not really a good opening gambit for conversation at a con—or elsewhere.)
Smile, say hello.


From Margaret Middleton:

Making friends at filk conventions:
Find somebody who seems to be in charge of some activity that looks interesting, (even, or maybe especially, if you don't quite know what's going on) and ask "What can I do to help?"
Speaking as a concom person, I can practically guarantee that this will result in you meeting AT MINIMUM everybody participating in that activity.


From JohnO:

Some DOs and DON'Ts

Don't just sit in the back of the concert hall or the outer ring of the circles and read, compute or otherwise do something percieved as "doing something else."

Do go to the Consuite/Lounge. Even if you are too shy to start a conversation, someone else will probably start one with you.

Don't have conversations/ask questions in the concert hall/circle rooms. See the above DO for the proper place to have conversations & ask questions.

Do participate. May performers will declare a song to a be a sing along, so sing along. Attend workshops or performance jams. Drum circles are great place to start if you don't have instrument training. Basic rythm is easy to find and you can quickly learn more complicated ones.

Don't overwhelm others when you do particpate. We don't mind if you can't carry a tune (this writer needs a large bucket), just don't be the loudest voice. When the Drum Thing is doing middle eastern style, don't try to fit in the "Wipeout" solo.

Do keep coming back. Filkers are a very friendly accepting bunch. On your 2nd visit, you'll probably be welcomed as a old friend


From Phil Mills:

I have a mixture of feelings about fitting in within the con setting. I'll just use myself as an example rather than giving any specific advice.

At Torcon 3, I definitely felt like an outsider and the same at my first FKO in 2004. The reason was that I was very conscious of having nothing to contribute except a pair of ears. Combine in the fact that I was working with the inaccurate belief that those cons would be mostly about music (or other program content) for everyone there. Lucky for me, I'm very good at being alone in a crowd. It seldom bothers me and, where there's music, I can flip quickly into listen-only mode if that seems the most appropriate role. I guess the lesson in that is to see what good the situation offers and enjoy it rather than going for "all or nothing" -- however an individual may define that.

The other thing is that the way I relate to people in filk is no different from the way I relate to people generally. Which would be, wait until they no longer notice me and then when they're at a water hole, distracted, I...oh, wait. I get to know people slowly, and over time explore whether we enjoy each other's company. But that's a different thing from picking an open room and singing a few songs. A couple of years practice and many listenings to Take It Back has convinced that that's close to being a right. So my second point has something to do with getting in touch with one's own expectations and social style...I guess...maybe....


From Joshua Kronengold:

Hate to say it, but...

"How do I know if I'm filkhogging? How do I avoid doing so unintentionally?"

Related FAQ entries:

Why doesn't the filk community notice/appreciate me?
What is a 'filkhog'? How can I avoid being one?
Any tips for shy or nervous filkers?


How did filk get started?

This is a difficult question to answer as is, since the definition of the word "filk" itself is somewhat nebulous. It is easier, however, to pinpoint the origin of the term "filk". According to several sources, the term came from a typo. In her essay on the history of filking (see references at the end of this article), Lee Gold points out that the typo was made by a fan submitting an essay to SAPS (Spectator Amateur Press Society). In his title, ""The Influence of Science Fiction on Modern American Filk Music", the word "Filk" was originally supposed to be "Folk". The essay was rejected, but word spread about the typo, and the term stuck.

Additional references

An Egocentric and Convoluted History of Early "Filk" And Filking by Lee Gold.

History of Filk (from Wikipedia entry on Filk Music)

History of Filk in Germany and Austria by Juliane Honisch.

A Brief History of (British) Filk by Rhodri James -- Ed. note: couldn't get through on April 7th/2007

Filklore and filklife studies by Jed Hartman (1980), with some modifications. Includes history of filk publishing.

What is "filk"?

(Shortcut to this page:

What is filk? Ask five filkers this question and you're guaranteed to get fifteen least. The term itself came from a typo, an erroneous version of the word "folk", as in "folk music".

Here's the "what is filk" page from Kay Shapero's Filk FAQ.
Here's the Interfilk definition page.
Here's the Wikipedia entry on 'filk music.'

I especially like Gary McGath's definition: "Filk music is a musical movement among fans of science fiction and fantasy fandom and closely related activities, emphasizing content which is related to the genre or its fans, and promoting broad participation. Filkers are people who participate in this movement." (Here's the full essay.)

Here are some definitions offered by other members of the filk community from around the world:

D. Glenn Arthur - Joe Bethancourt -'s definition - Sherman Dorn - Lee Gold - Jed Hartman - Judith & Dave Hayman - Jordin Kare - Conrad Leviston - Michael Liebmann - Jane Mailander - Chris Malme - MASSFILC definition - Gary McGath - Erica Neely and Mike Richards - Nick Smith - Tom Smith - Dr. Paul Schuch - Annie Walker - Julia West - Rob Wynne

You can find filk conventions and filk gatherings in many different venues and locations. My music group has performed at filk events in Germany, England, California, across the U.S. and Canada. Our home turf and favourite convention: FilKONtario. But I digress.

Here's my attempt to answer the "What Is Filk" question:

I've been attending filk circles for over twenty years, and it has become clear to me that the word has different meanings for different people, and different meanings in different contexts.

Confused yet? :-)

I think it would help to explain the word "filk" as used in different contexts. Feel free to argue with me, or make your own suggestions.

"I can't believe Gomer FILKED my song!"

In this context, "filk" is used as a verb, and means that Gomer took the speaker's song and replaced the lyrics with different ones which scan to the original tune. This does NOT mean that all filk music is composed of parodies.

"We were FILKing last night until 4 a.m."

"Filk" is again used as a verb, but in this case it basically means the act of participating in a musical jam session (either performing together, taking turns, or listening). Someone who does not perform music at all but prefers to just listen instead can still use the statement above.

"Who was the blue-haired guy in the FILK circle last night?"

In this case, "filk circle" refers to the particular group who gathered to make music (see definition above). One could use the term "music circle" instead, and the meaning would basically be the same in this context.

"Are you coming to the houseFILK this weekend?"

Housefilks are social events at which there is some element of filking. I've been to housefilks where people just hang out and talk, with a few songs scattered here and there. Most housefilks, however, have a focus on making music, with more opportunity for casual socializing than is possible in a hectic filk convention atmosphere.

"Is that an example of FILK music?"

Oooo, now we're getting to the thorny issues. The definition of "filk music" has caused much controversy.

Some popular definitions of filk that have cropped up over the years (please note that several contradict each other):

  • - It is a parody with a science fiction theme.

  • - It is a parody.

  • - It is folk music performed in a filk circle.

  • - Pretty much anything that is performed in a filk circle
    (i.e. not necessarily a parody and not necessarily with
    a science fiction theme).

  • - It is based on a literary sf or fantasy theme. (Star Trek tv series doesn't cut it)

  • - It has a focus on sf, fantasy, technology, or the media.

  • - It has a focus on sf, fantasy, technology, the media, or cats.

Because of the confusing use of the word "filk" in contexts where the meaning changes, it's no wonder few people can agree on what "filk music" really is.

I become suspicious of people who are too aggressive about establishing an exact definition of filk music because their motivations are often based on the need to separate those who belong from those who don't. I've heard some people yearn for the old days, when people sang "real" filk. I've also heard people label various performers or groups who regularly attend filk conventions as being "non-filk", automatically categorizing them as outsiders until they agree to conform to certain rules.

If pressed for a definition, I'd say that filk music is anything performed at a filk circle, but generally tends to focus on topics related to science fiction, fantasy, technology and the media. My definition is based more on the type of songs I've heard performed at filk circles rather than expecting people IN the filk circle to conform to a particular definition.

As a filker, I welcome new voices, types of music and musical tastes. They may not be my own, but I enjoy the variety and infusion of new blood. It keeps me from getting too complacent. I also find that I'm almost always inspired to write more music or push myself to write different types of music after I attend a con at which I hear a wide variety of musical styles.

"Is she a FILKER?"

Answering this question is likely going to get me into more hot water, but here goes.

In my opinion, anyone who honestly believes they are a filker IS a filker. Thus someone who attends filk conventions but only writes and sings love songs that have nothing to do with science fiction is a filker if he or she believes so. 

If you consider yourself to be part of the filking community, then you're a filker. I was once very impressed by a performer I first heard at Confusion. His vocal and songwriting skills were impressive, and he was charming and friendly in the filk circle. He also attended several conventions a year and was fairly well-known in the filk community.

Upon being asked if he was a filker, however, he reportedly replied (with some scorn), "I'm not a filker. I'm a MUSICIAN." 

I consider myself a filker (AND a musician :-)). I also consider Urban Tapestry to be a filk group even though I know some people believe that our music isn't filk music. We write and perform songs about a wide range of topics from food to computers to love to friendships to media to the Internet to science fiction books. And we all feel very lucky to be part of the filking community.


The bottom line: don't let yourself get mired down in the controversy and politics of defining filk.

If you like the music and bonding you find in a particular filk circle, then stay and enjoy. If you don't, then find another circle (there are often several at each filk convention, each with its own personality and variety of music), or start your own. :-)

Related FAQ pages:
How did filk get started?
What is the filk community?

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