by Bret Dawson and
Clive Thompson

The singer's voice is quiet, and full of sorrow.

"For my friend, I have gambled all
And the outcome of my quest is still unknown
The grief and pain will come, I fear,
But now I must be strong
Even though I feel so empty and alone.

"Gone, yet still you fly
My love for you will never die
Memories arise, as the tears fall from my eyes
Enterprise, Enterprise."

One by one, other voices join in, quietly repeating the word until the room echoes with gentle, haunting harmonies.

"Enterprise. Enterprise. Enterprise. Enterprise."

This is "filk" music. The people who play it would probably quibble with this definition, but, at heart, filk is what happens when you fill a room with hard-core Star Trek buffs and acoustic guitars. You get pretty, tuneful folk ballads that just happen to be about spacecraft, Romulan traitors, and the joys of transporting.

Six or seven times a year, filkers from across the continent gather for weekend-long conventions, where they sing, write, jam, and critique each other's material. They also drink, hang out in fancy digs, and have sex with each other.

When we found out there was a conference being held by a local chapter—the United Filkers of Ontario—we just had to get in on the action. So after we spent the morning frantically composing our very own filk tune, we headed uptown to the conference center.

There we met Carolyn, who sings about dragons and her cat while playing her guitar too quietly. And Jodi, a member of a filk group called Urban Tapestry, who hopes someday to make a living writing music in the David Foster tradition. And, of course, Glenn, who brought fifteen tin whistles and still managed to spend most of the evening playing in the wrong key.

There were others: people who sat and listened, people who sang along, and people who just talked—about Tolkien and Roddenberry and the convention circuit. It seemed obvious. This was about escape. An escape from boredom, from suburbia, from parenthood and into an unpredictable world of sci-fi danger and excitement and capital "R" Romance. "These people," Clive whispered, "really hate reality, don't they?"

It was our turn. So we tore into our song, "The Mechanical Bride," (strapRA.gif) with all the drama we could muster. It really is epic, even by filk standards: Captain Kirk loves and loses; Klingons get blown up; Spock gets mad. We were both sure it would be a big hit.

Nope. When we finished, only a smattering of polite applause disturbed the ringing silence. Dave offered some flaccid encouragement: "Um, that was really...original. Good going, guys." We were soon forgotten, as Jodi launched into a perky number about Bones and the crowd went wild. Evidently, we'd flopped.

However, we had one last chance: from about 11:00 p.m. until way past dawn, there was "open" filking. The rules were simple: if you got the room's attention, you got to play. So why, we asked ourselves, not give it another try?

At about 2:30 in the morning, we were nearly ready to give up. For some obscure reason, these filking lunatics refused to acknowledge our existence. Bret attempted to break through the nonstop stream of filk by piping up with lively banter after each song, hoping to attract attention. "You know," he said, as Carolyn finished a song about filk addiction, "that reminds me of a tune we worked out here...."

It was useless. Graham from Winnipeg had already started a new tune: something about a filk wedding. Everyone seemed to know Graham, a seasoned filk conference attendee, and indeed everyone knew the lyrics to the song—hell, they were singing along!

Finally, we began to guess why we were being ignored. "You can't just walk in here and do this," Bret whispered. "You have to be a member. You have to live it."

And they do. As the night wore on, and the filkers got more and more caffeine-addled, the songs got more wistful and, strangely, more personal. When Decadent Dave sang, his rich baritone trembled with more emotion than it had all night. Then Judith led the crowd of about forty people in what she called the Filker's Hymn, a song called "Hope Eyrie". And when Don from New York sang, everything suddenly became clear: filk music is a religion. A tiny, scattered community of believers meeting in basements once a month, giving the outside world no clue that it even exists. They sing hymns to the future, to technology, to space travel, and to those of their descendants who'll reach the stars.   </end>

Filk musician drawing by Greg

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