The 62nd World Science Fiction Convention

  • Sept. 2-6, 2004
  • Boston, MA

Program Brainstorming Introduction

  • This weblog is a place where you can give us your suggestions for Noreascon 4 programming. What great new ideas do you have and what things have you seen at other conventions that you'd like us to "steal"? (Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.) To make a suggestion, please add a comment under the appropriate heading. Feel free to write a short description of the topic and even suggest appropriate program participants for it. If there's a lot of interest in a particular topic, we'll add a new heading for it.

    Please note: This is not the place to volunteer to be on Program. If you are interested in being on the Program, please see our Program Participant Selection FAQ.

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September 24, 2003


This is where you can give us suggestions for program ideas related to filking.

September 24, 2003 | Permalink


So You Want to Buy an Instrument....

[possibly this could be a series of items, the initial one an hour or an hour and a half, and the other items a half hour or so]

Initial session:

Which Musical Instrument?

While most filkers sing, some also or instead play instruments (some play mutiple instruments). Going to a filksing, you're likely to see a fair number of guitars, an electronic keyboard or two or three, some drums (particularly bongo), maybe a flute, maybe a recorder, occasionally a harp or two, occasionally a banjo or violin/fiddle, and much more rarely other instruments. Playing an instrument adds another dimension of performance --something to help keep the singers more on-key, something to provide a pleasing accompaniment, or something to listen to as instrumentals without words. Instruments, however, are less portable and more persnickety that people-- stringed instruments need tuning, brass instruments fill up with saliva and drip, full size guitars don't fit in airline overhead bins and face bashing or even disappearance as checked baggage. Also, there's the small consideration that the player of an instrument be expected to learn to play semi-competently and on-key. Given those constraints, how can/should someone decide what instrument to try, and how do they approaching learning how to play it?


- Choosing a Guitar

What the aspirant instrument buyer should know about guitars, when deciding to acquire one.

It Has Strings and It's -not- a Guitar!

Guitars are the most common instruments at filks, but not everything that's a musical instrument with strings at a filk, is a guitar. There are also harps, violins/fiddles, banjos, lutes, dulcimers, and rare appearances of violas, and even fullout bass violins, and non-western stringed instruments. What are the advantages and disadvantages to them, where do you find them, how much do they cost, and how do you learn to play them!

The Still, Small Sound of Trumpets (and other Brasses)

Brass instruments are very rare at filks. A couple reasons are obvious--one can't sing and play a brass instrument at the same time, and most of them are loud (but that's what mutes are made for). Is there a place for brass instruments, and brass instrument players, in filking? And why are their so few brass-playing filkers?


Why do flutes seem to be the most common woodwind seen at filksings? Does it being a C instrument have anythind to do with that? Flutes don't need reed preparations and soaking, but are those really drivers? And where is once going to get the music for the wind instruments, anyway?

Keyboard Instruments

Electronic keyboards aren't quite as ubiquitous at filks at guitars. But, they don't have the tuning issues, most a few seconds can change the pitch, the turning, the "voice" or voices of the instrument, and some even have record and playback ability! But, electronics keyboards aren't he only keyboard instruments, sometimes there are ocarinas to see, or other mechanically pumped handheld keyboard instruments, occasionally even an electronic organ, or an actual mechanical pianoforte (one MASSFILC meeting, a fellow asked to do an accompaniment said, "But I already packed up my keyboard!" There's a -piano- behind you, you could play that" was suggested to him...). What sort of learning considerations, space and power needs, and pricing are involved, for someone thinking about getting a keyboard instrument?

Getting Beat

Drums have their pluses and minuses. Small ones are easily transportable and don't take up much space. Larger drum sets have larger logistical issues, and are louder. Has anyone ever used tympanis at a filk? What types of drums are the best for starting with, and what are they likely to cost? What about maintenace and repair?

Other Instruments

Kazoos aren't the most serious instruments around, but they sometimes show in large quantities. Harmonicas appear sometimes at filks. Playing the walls at a room party isn't unheard, but isn't considered the best of manners, either. Bells and castanets tend to be seen more at dancing that at filks. And are people dancing in the middle of a filksing in beat to the music (as happened at Torcon) musical instruments or not?! Claps, footstamping, and the Special Efforts to "Hot Frogs on the Loose" are certainly sound effects, but what's the instrument?)?


[related but not the same thing]

Computers at Filks

MIDI's been around for years, but doesn't get much live performance use at filks. Computers get used sometimes involved in recording audio, but... Some of the reasons for general non-use as instruments involve setup and cabling and parts--a MIDI keyboard and a laptop involve the keyboard, the laptop, necessary software and familiarization with it, a pair of MIDI cables, a MIDI interface device, power cables, tripping hazards and space consumption, assembly and setup time and effort, and having to remember to find and bring and keep track of all those pieces. Laptops are easier to lug around that tower computers, but still need space and power. They can serve both for storing songs, and, for instafilkers especially, something less likely to get lost and go missing that whatever scraps of paper one has at 2 AM when bit by the Verse Demon, and they are are lot easier to work with and edit on than illegible chicken tracks on the pieces of paper that don't get lots (here's page one, here's page 3, what happened to the second page?!). This may be a blssing, or a curse... Should computers get used more at filks, or not, and how much of an instrument are they, can they be, or should they be?

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | April 21, 2004 01:17 AM

I'd like to suggest a filk program item where the assembled audience and panel write a filk song, right there. That was done at a Boskone many years ago, and the result was pretty good.

Posted by: A. Joseph Ross | February 16, 2004 12:12 AM

[some of this may be more "music" than "filk"]

1. Fantasy in Music [2 hour item] Wagner's Ring cycle, Lerner & Lowe's Camelot, Mozart's The Magic Flute, Bartok's song "The Blackbird," the traditional song "The Demon Lover" -- all of these, and more, are musical works based on or containing substantial fantastical content.

2. All about Housefilks -- what they are,why thrown one -- good points and bad, what's involved in setting them up, House Rules, how long should they run for, and how to get people to Go Home when it's That Time.

3. "It's Someone ELSE's Turn!" -- fairness in who gets to sing for how long at filks [might be best at half-hour length]. "Filkhog" is a deprecatory term referring to someone who unrestrained, has the habit of taking over a filksing. Strategies for letting others get a song in edgewise include having a "filk czar" in charge, or using an restrictive access method such as bardic circle or poker chip which limits the number of turns per person.

4. Audience-interactive items, wherein people would be competing perhaps in teams, to come up with the most songs on a topic/theme, or to sing lines from a song with the topic/theme in them.

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | February 9, 2004 03:18 AM

Filk Choral Singing Proposal

Instabands are a great way for filkers to get to meet and perform (especially those who don't normally get to do so), but they have two problems:

1. They take time away from doing other things at a Worldcon.

2. Too many "BNFs" don't sign up for them, thus lowering the quality of the Instabands.

Instead, as a way for folks to mingle, I'd like to propose some filk choral singing.

How this would work:

1. One or more folks (I'm willing to volunteer for this) prepares and posts choral arrangements of filk music in advance of the con. These ought to be set up in a combination of PDF of all parts, MIDI or Quicktime (MP3?) of all parts together, and MIDI or Quicktime of each individual part.

This would make it possible for folks who can read music to learn that way and for those who can't read music or who learn better by listening to hear the music.

2. At the con, rehearsals are scheduled for each of the songs. Folks can also sign up and join at the con, but it's still easier to do this when you have folks prepared in advance to hold up individual sections. (I highly recommend we have a "ringer" for each vocal part. I'll take Alto. I can think of several folks who'd make great "ringers" for the other voices.)

3. At a specified time, all the choral numbers are performed.

The advantages of this over Instabands are:

1. The coordinators don't have to spend time trying to figure out who should go in which group. At Torcon there weren't enough instrumentalists to go around between the Instabands, causing one to be absorbed into the other two.

2. You have pre-selected songs, thus cutting out the agonizing time of trying to agree on what to sing.

3. People can learn the music in advance, thus cutting rehearsal time (and for some folks, mostly eliminating the need to rehearse altogether).

Again, I reiterate: I'm willing to help with this one and even coordinate it.

Posted by: Lynn Gold | November 7, 2003 02:35 AM

Pushing the Limits in Filk: What songs and types of content press the limits of taste, subject matter, exposure, singability, audience participation (or lack thereof), and audience patience? What E.g., Banned from Argo used to be very popular, but got overexposed. Young Man Mulligan has a near-infinite number of verses. Bawdy filk usually gets restricted to late night audiences. And just what is the maximum tolerance for "ose"?

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | November 6, 2003 09:08 PM

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