minstrel: Who's afraid of the big bad filk?

Tim Connor timcon at flash.net
Sun Mar 12 10:41:30 PST 2000

Since I guess I'm the one who started this, please allow me to clarify. 
I have heard filks that I admired from the point of view of musical and
lyrical craftsmanship.  They can, indeed, be very witty and genuinely
entertaining. But hearing lyrics about SCA people and their activities
sung to a familiar 20th c. tune is, for me, a bit dissonant, like
walking into a 7-11 wearing a tunic.  Even when the filk is good it
takes one out of the game, is alienating (in a Brechtian sense).

Another argument against filk of this sort (as opposed to contrefacta,
even humorous ones, using period tunes) is that it reinforces a tendency
to treat music as just another accessory.  I suspect that many, if not
most of the gentles in the society (who aren't bards or performers
themselves) don't particularly like period music and don't listen to it
unless it's forced on them at an event.  When the garb comes off,
Nirvana goes on the CD player.  This may have a lot to do with the
difficulty some of us have holding an audience for any period
performance longer than two minutes--the listeners don't have the
musical vocabulary because they've been trained to expect modern music
in pre-1600 fancy dress (I count most traditional folk songs as "modern"
because they became familiar to moderns in the Great Folk Music Scare of
1958-65--if not the particular songs, then the general sound of them. 
And by now everyone who cares knows they're not period).

I don't actually want to ban anything, but I'd like people to think
about how period music can become more familiar to the non-bards in the
SCA, and how we can support that process and not undermine it--imagine a
fighter humming "Kalenda Maya" as he straps on his armor, not even
realizing he's humming a period tune...


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