Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Kumbaya and Filk With Me

Something we don't often do these days is communal singing.  I've noticed that in recent movies it's either done by spaced-out hippies, African-American churchgoers or drunk and incoherent football fans.  But if you go back a few decades, people often used to sing together in social situations.  I think it's sad that we've become too self-conscious, too isolated, too cynical or too 'sophisticated' for that sort of thing.

I grew up in a church where singing and playing music together was considered really important.  It solidifies communities, encourages people and re-affirms beliefs and ideals.  (Plus, you can always have a laugh about that one exuberant guy up the back who sings particularly loudly and off key.)  Personally, I've found there's nothing that builds friendships as quickly as rehearsing with a band or even singing some songs around a bonfire.  (It’s always Oasis, for some reason.  Followed by Free Fallin’.)

One of the best memories from my gig-going history was a moment at a Kings of Leon concert where the crowd was singing louder than the band.  The elation in the arena was palpable.  I don't think I'll ever forget it.

This week, I read an early essay from one of my favourite theorists, Henry Jenkins.  He was talking about a practice of sci-fi and fantasy fans which I wasn't familiar with.  (Shocking, I know.  Minus 15 geek points.)  It's called filking (i.e. ‘to play filk music’ – a misprint of 'folk' in a title which was appropriated by fans).  It mostly happens at cons.  A bunch of fans get together in a room and sing songs about - well, anything, really, from second breakfasts to the Shat’s toupée.  Presumably there are quite a few love songs to Spock in there, too (Have You Ever Really Loved A Vulcan?)  People are encouraged to bring anything.  It could be a half-finished song that needs suggestions from the crowd for a second verse, or an old favourite that’s been passed around from con to con.  If it’s the latter, people are free to join in and the whole thing becomes a communal sing-along.  Most of the songs use old folk melodies, so if you can’t play an instrument, chances are somebody there that does will know it and can accompany you.  At this point I can hear you saying, ‘These nerds are bonkers.’  You may be right, but what I like about it is the safe environment that’s provided for people to be a part of something and be creative.  I think that’s why Facebook and Twitter have become so important in our lives – we’re missing a sense of community, of being part of something greater that doesn’t involve annual performance reviews and budget spreadsheets and ‘networking’; something that we find exciting, fascinating, emotionally satisfying and freeing.

So, I say, kumbaya and filk with me.

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