The Confession: My name is Ju Honisch and I’m a Filker

Ju HonischThe Confession:
My name is Ju Honisch and I’m a Filker

zum deutschen Original FILK is not a typo or a misprint; it is a little known music genre even though it has been in existence for fifty years. Whether the name rose out of a misprint or whether it is a deliberate word-blend of “Folk” and the term “Filch”, who knows? (Translators Note: I am currently living with a Filker by the name of Heather Borean and I believe the term was an actual programme book misprint that everyone liked enough to keep.)

“Filching” or more kindly put, “Lending” was, at least in the beginning, the usual way of obtaining a melody of some kind.
These days however, savvy Filker composes all their songs themselves. Filk has originated in Fantasy or Science Fiction Fandom.  Science Fiction and Fantasy fans, otherwise known as ‘fen’, write their songs for Science Fiction Conventions (which are fen-run weekends devoted to all things either Fantasy or Science Fiction, from books to movies, costumes to artwork, and music). At these cons, one would often find guitar-bearing fen gathering in hotel rooms late at night making themselves noisily unpopular. Fortunately Filk has since evolved, though it still suffers from its early reputation of being jangling, discordant and amateurish.  The bad reputation is tenacious, however, even though Filk has long outgrown its somewhat crude roots. Perhaps those involved with Fantasy Fandom, who are looked down upon by the erudite culture-conscious class, in turn need a sub culture to sniff at? This suits us Filkers just fine.  And quite possibly it isn’t at all a bad thing, since this way we have remained among ourselves, a little bit comfy and homey and quite unnoticed by the music industry - and thus a bit of a secret insiders’ tip.  
I like FILK. And I like  Filkers, because they form a very creative, very cuddly community connected with each other across continents and oceans. Truly, FILK is much more than a mere music genre: FILK is an attitude towards life.  It is also a place refuge of tolerance, ingenuity and humor. And of course, of music.

Very few Filkers are professionals.  The vast majority of them range from tolerably good to excellent hobbyists and apart from the few pros, the only place you can actually listen to ‘live’ Filk is at conventions. Here the music is still “hand-made” – everything real, fresh, and everyone is encouraged to join in. And since we are an established community and not a professional venue everyone is offered a space to perform, even the beginner, whom everyone listens to politely, whether they are on-fire guitar heroes – or – not so much. Even if you are not good immediately, this is the place where you are given time to develop.  At Filk-cons there is no jury to contend with and no one gets mocked or ridiculed.  There are not many rules here other than have fun and be merry – and let others have fun and be merry as well!

It is the lyrics that are usually the focus of a ‘Filksong’ rather than the melody.  In an  ancient Bardic tradition, here an entire story is told, or  an opinion of a book, a movie or a television series is expressed or satirized.  For this reason, Filk needs an attentive audience.  It is unsuitable as background music because if the story is not heard the entire point of the song is lost.

In recent years in Germany, bands have been formed that came out of the Middle-Ages re-enactors’ or the LARP scene. These now do professionally what Filk has done undetected for decades. Nonetheless the two (quite similar) genres have not mingled or found some common ground to stand on. Filk is still very much a secret pastime for “insiders only”.

So where can one hear Filk?  In Germany there are two main cons.  The one in the spring is the DFDF, the Frühlingsfest der Filks-Musik (name:  a nail-bending punning allusion to exactly the kind of Music business that every Filker wishes to avoid) and the FilkCONtinental in the fall. The DFDF,  is a classic Hotel Convention with sufficient time to sit in the bar with other Filkers and your favourite cocktail,  while the FilkCONtinental  celebrates filk with a vengeance – in a castle, with music, dancing, lots of costumes and fun and games.
My personal favorite overseas con is my beloved ‘FilkOntario’ in Toronto, Canada, around Easter.  This is where the crème de la crème of the North American Filkers meet and one need not worry about the intricacies of US immigration procedure.  It is a wonderful meeting where a number of SF/F authors hang out.  Some of them are even Filkers!  I am especially grateful to Tanya Huff, who I made friends with at FilkOntario years ago, and who made my first steps into professional writing much easier.
If you do not wish to travel, Filk is available on CD at while background reports may be found at FILK-Radio.
And if you are bitten by the bug, and want to have a listen, check out:

translation by Shirley Meier

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