Identity and authenticity in the filk community

Melissa L. Tatum

University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, Tucson, Arizona, United States

[0.1] Abstract—As a result of several studies examining the relationship between identity and music subcultures, sociologists have developed a framework for analyzing those relationships. I apply this framework to the filk community, using the question "Is wizard rock filk?" as a vehicle for exploring slippery questions: What is filk? What is the filk community? What does it mean to be a filker? Part of the difficulty with defining these terms rests with the fact that people approach filk in different ways; it can be one of many activities at a convention, a genre of music, a subculture, or some or all of these. Although both wizard rock and filk are musical movements within fandom, I conclude that the answer to the question "Is wizard rock filk?" depends on the context of who is answering the question and what perspective that person holds with respect to the filk community. This dependence on perspectives is particularly important in the filk community and has repercussions for the larger fan community because one of the hallmarks of these fan communities is a tolerance of differing perspectives.

[0.2] Keywords—Filk; Wizard rock

Tatum, Melissa L. 2009. Identity and authenticity in the filk community. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 3.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Recently, while I was at a conference to present a paper on filk, a member of the audience asked whether I thought wizard rock was filk, or more specifically, whether filkers considered wizard rock to be filk. My immediate reaction was "No, wizard rock is not filk," but when I tried to articulate why, my arguments either ran into roadblocks or circled back on themselves. As an academic, both of those outcomes were completely unacceptable, so I began writing this essay as part of an effort to unravel my thinking on the subject.

[1.2] As I worked through the various arguments, this essay mutated from a simple extended answer into a more complex look at identity and authenticity in the filk community. The transformation began with the realization that answering the deceptively easy question of what filkers think of wizard rock required that I define the filk community, define how the filk community views wizard rock, and construct a framework for analyzing the connections between identity and music subcultures.

[1.3] Fortunately, sociologists have spent decades studying the relationships between music, subcultures, and identity, and in the process, they have built a framework for exploring the symbiotic relationship between music and identity. That framework provides the ideal mechanism for answering the question "Is wizard rock filk?"—or rather, for answering the question of whether I think wizard rock is filk.

[1.4] To explore this question, I first provide a brief orientation to filk and wizard rock. I then set out a sociological framework for examining issues of identity in music subcultures, apply that framework to the filk community, and use it to analyze wizard rock from a filker's perspective.

2. What is this thing called filk?

[2.1] Filk is not easily defined, although parts of it are easy to explain. For decades, the science fiction and fantasy community has regularly brought its authors and fans together for weekend conventions. Many of these conventiongoers would gather in the evening hours for song circles, playing music and swapping songs. In the early years, these gatherings were small, informal gatherings in hotel rooms or hallways, but over the last 25 or 30 years, filk has become more mainstream. Filk is an accepted part of fan conventions; dedicated filk conventions have sprung up, such as GAFilk ( and OVFF (Ohio Valley Filk Fest,, a filking hall of fame (, and an annual awards ceremony (the Pegasus Awards, The term filk is generally attributed to Lee Jacobs; it is the result of a typographical error that changed "folk music" to "filk music" (Filking 101) (note 1).

[2.2] Filk appears in three basic spaces at conventions: filk rooms, filk concerts, and filk panels. Filk rooms are the classic space and are traditionally arranged so that filkers sit in a circle, taking turns performing. The method of taking turns can vary, with the two basic forms being bardic and chaos. In a bardic circle, the rotation proceeds around the circle in order, with each person either performing a single song, requesting another member of the circle perform a particular song, or passing the turn. In a chaos circle, turns proceed in random order, often with the idea that each song should be in some way connected (for example, by tune, theme, composer) to the song that was just performed. Both styles have advantages and disadvantages, and several variations have developed as part of efforts to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages. As filk has become more popular, conventions have also started offering filk concerts featuring top performers and filk panels that range from introductory panels explaining filk to newcomers to workshops on everything from lyric writing to vocal techniques to accompaniment styles.

[2.3] It is thus rather straightforward to describe the physical setting for filk, but efforts to define filk itself result in much discussion and not much agreement. It is perhaps easiest to begin by examining filk songs themselves, which come in many varieties. Some use original lyrics; some use lyrics based on characters and universes created by other people; and some set poems or other written words to music. The lyrics can be poignant, witty, even ribald; they can celebrate an event, critique a work, provide social commentary, poke fun, or tell an original story.

[2.4] The tunes for filk songs come from a variety of places. When many people think of filk, their first thought is of parody—someone taking a well-known tune that is subject to copyright, stripping the lyrics, and writing new ones, a sort of Weird Al Yankovic for the science fiction set. And although that is certainly common, it is far from the only form of filk. The melodies for filk songs can also be drawn from the public domain, and many filk songs are set to original compositions.

[2.5] The various combinations of lyrics and melody, ranging from original lyrics set to an original melody to lyrics borrowed from someone else's writing and set to a tune composed by another person, result in a wide variety of filk songs. Although it is impossible to encapsulate the entire spectrum of filk in a small handful of examples, it is important to understand that spectrum because it plays a role in defining filk and the filk community. I have chosen six examples to represent various points on the filk spectrum. Each of the six examples represents filk written for a different purpose.

[2.6] The first example, "What Is This Thing Called Filk?" (2009) (sound clip 1), consists of original lyrics set to a tune in the public domain (note 2). Although the song was written to explain filk to a nonfilk audience, it fits neatly within one of the major categories of filk—songs about filk and filking. The song's lyrics walk the listener through three distinct forms of filk: parody songs consisting of original lyrics to a copyrighted tune; songs with lyrics based on another person's characters; and songs with original lyrics set to an original tune.

Sound clip 1. "What Is This Thing Called Filk?" (2009). Lyrics written by Melissa Tatum; performed by Mary Crowell. Recording courtesy of Crowell.

[2.7] The second example, "Snippin' Off His Mail" (2009) (sound clip 2), is the stereotypical form of filk song: it takes a popular tune and substitutes new lyrics that are based on some aspect of science fiction and fantasy, often with a humorous connection to the original. "Snippin' Off His Mail" is set to the tune of "Callin' Baton Rouge," written by Dennis Linde and made famous by Garth Brooks. The original lyrics feature a man obsessed with the woman with whom he spent the previous night. "Snippin' Off His Mail" substitutes new lyrics in which a woman is obsessed with the man from the previous night, although with a "fantasy" twist.

Sound clip 2. Excerpt of "Snippin' Off His Mail" (2009). Lyrics written by Melissa Tatum; performed by Mary Crowell. Recording courtesy of Crowell; complete lyrics are available at

[2.8] Another major category of filk songs explores science fiction television shows and books. Sometimes these songs celebrate favorites, sometimes they articulate disappointment or a critique, and sometimes they create new adventures for favorite characters. Brooke Lunderville, in her 2006 filk "I Fell Asleep" (sound clip 3), both sings the praises of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and bemoans The Silmarillion as a boring disappointment. Leslie Fish's classic 1977 filk, "Banned from Argo" (sound clip 4), one of the most infamous of all filk songs, spins a tale of adventure involving the characters from the original Star Trek series without mentioning the characters by name.

Sound clip 3. "I Fell Asleep" (2006), written and performed by Brooke Lunderville. Recording courtesy of Lunderville; complete lyrics are available at

Sound clip 4. Excerpt of "Banned from Argo" (1977). Lyrics by Leslie Fish set to a tune in the public domain, and performed by Mary Crowell. Recording courtesy of Crowell; complete lyrics are available at

[2.9] Although the lyrics of most filk songs are rooted in science fiction and fantasy, a significant minority of filk songs could be categorized as science fiction and fantasy only under a very elastic definition of those topics. Although these songs at first glance may appear to be anomalies, they actually reflect filk's roots in the folk music world. Brooke Lunderville's "The Wreck of the Crash of the Easthill Mining Disaster" (sound clip 5), is a disaster song in the mode of Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," albeit with a unique twist.

Sound clip 5. "The Wreck of the Crash of the Easthill Mining Disaster" (2006), written and performed by Brooke Lunderville. Recording courtesy of Lunderville; complete lyrics are available at

[2.10] Perhaps the ultimate tribute in filk is to have someone filk your song—that is, write a parody of it. "Urban Legend" (2009) (sound clip 6) does just that for Lunderville's "The Wreck of the Crash of the Easthill Mining Disaster" by supplying new lyrics to accompany the original tune. The new lyrics use the format of Lunderville's song to poke fun at a series of urban legend disaster stories.

Sound clip 6. Excerpt of "Urban Legend" (2009), written by Melissa Tatum, set to music composed by Brooke Lunderville, and performed by Mary Crowell. Recording courtesy of Crowell; complete lyrics are available at

[2.11] As a collective, these songs may not cover the entire panoply of filk, but they do suffice to illustrate many varieties of filk and provide a taste of its depth and breadth. That sampling should provide a foundation for understanding the definitions of filk and the filk community discussed below. Before tackling that topic, however, we need at least a brief orientation to wizard rock.

3. Grokking wrock

[3.1] Wizard rock, or wrock, is music rooted in the universe of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. Wizard rock's origins as a musical movement or subculture trace back to 2002 and a band called Harry and the Potters, although credit for the first wizard rock song seems to belong to Switchblade Kittens and their 2000 release, "Ode to Harry" (Wizrocklopedia) (note 3). "Ode to Harry" was written from the perspective of Ginny Weasley, and the concept of portraying a particular character's point of view is a theme of many wizard rock bands (Wikipedia). That portrayal often goes beyond song lyrics to include dressing as that character during performances (Vineyard 2007).

[3.2] Although Harry and the Potters formed in the summer of 2002 and released their first CD in the spring of 2003, wrock did not really become a full-fledged movement until late 2004 and early 2005 (Wikipedia). By that time, several bands had formed, and they combined to create an entire evening of wizard rock–themed music, which in turn gave birth to the idea of tours, more CDs, and a presence on MySpace (Wizrocklopedia). Over the next few years, several hundred bands formed, playing all sorts of music in widely ranging genres: folk, electronica, metal, and hip-hop (Vineyard 2007).

[3.3] What unites these bands into a genre or subculture is not their musical style, but rather the content of their music (Vineyard 2007). As with filk, wizard rock encompasses a wide variety of musical styles. Unlike filk, however, the subject of wizard rock is more limited. As the sound clips above demonstrate, filk songs cover a wide variety of topics; in contrast, wrock bands exclusively play music rooted in the Harry Potter universe. One other significant difference between wrock and filk is the performance format; filk music is rooted in the song circle, while wizard rock bands perform in more conventional formats, with the bands on stage playing for an audience of fans. Thus, although filk and wizard rock both share a common base in the science fiction and fantasy world, the two genres do not appear, at least initially, to overlap. Before reaching a definitive conclusion on the subject, it important to understand what we mean when we talk about a music subculture and how we define the identity of that subculture.

4. Music and identity

[4.1] Debates within music communities over how to define themselves are not unique, and indeed, sociologists regularly study the relationship between music and identity (Davis 2006; Williams 2006; Kruse 1993). This relationship is of interest because "music is seen as consequential in the creation of subcultures as well as a consequence of them" (Williams 2006:174). As part of this exploration of identity and community, sociologists study "how members of music scenes construct identities that separate themselves from the mainstream" (Williams 2006:184).

[4.2] It is important, then, to understand what is meant by social identity. J. Patrick Williams (2006:177) defines this term broadly as "plac[ing] the individual as a member of a social category that differs from other categories. Membership in [a] category accompanies the person" even when the person is not interacting with other subculturalists. Williams continues,

[4.3] Successful identification rests upon expressing a similarity of self to one's peers as well as distinction from members of mainstream society. Subcultural participants may, for example, construct narratives that emphasize their allegiance to a group ethos or to subcultural values and norms. Such narratives build in-group cohesion and highlight how subculture differs from mainstream culture. The resulting subcultural boundaries situate some people on the "inside" and others on the "outside." Such identifications are an affective as well as a cognitive experience, invoking positive feelings and emotions as people identify as members of a group. (2006:177–78)

[4.4] Williams (2006) conducted an interesting study of so-called straightedgers, a part of the punk movement that defines itself in part by not doing drugs, not smoking, and so on. Williams explored a dispute between "two different types of straightedge participants [that have] emerged as more people outside of traditional straightedge music scenes learn about straightedge on the internet and begin interacting within online subcultural spaces" (2006:175). His article focuses on claims made by each category regarding what constitutes "authentic" straightedge identity. He distilled those claims into two categories: straightedgers who "utilized the internet forum as a supplement to their participation in face-to-face straightedge music scenes," and those who "argued in favor of a broader definition of straightedge that included anyone who lived the straightedge lifestyle" (Williams 2006:183).

[4.5] The debates over authenticity centered on whether participation in the face-to-face straightedge music scene was a necessary element of a straightedge identity (Williams 2006:188). The so-called music-straightedgers were not openly hostile toward the Net-straightedgers, but instead

[4.6] expressed their concerns about the dilution of straightedge through what they saw as people bypassing essential(ized) criteria for authenticity. This perceived "defusion" was occurring because the internet facilitated the spread of subcultural information and knowledge to populations who did have that "essential" something that made straightedgers different. (Williams 2006:188)

[4.7] Williams then explores notions of authenticity more abstractly, noting that it "is not an either/or experience. Like all symbols, authenticity is interpreted by individuals and mediated through interaction with significant others" (2006:189), and that "authentic characteristics do 'not inhere in the object, person or performance said to be authentic. Rather, authenticity is a claim made by or for someone, thing or performance and either accepted or rejected by relevant others'" (Peterson 2005 in Williams 2006:177).

[4.8] The sociological studies of music and subculture, and in particular Williams's study of the straightedge community, provide a wealth of tools for exploring definitions of filk, particularly those offered by the filk community itself. As the next section makes clear, no clear, universally accepted definition of filk exists.

5. Defining filk and the filk community

[5.1] Much angst and ink have been spent in attempts to define filk and to identify precisely who is a filker. Indeed, one source asserted that "one of the things filkers do besides sing and write songs is argue over exactly what filk is" (M.A.S.S.F.I.L.C.). This struggle fits squarely into Williams's (2006:189) observation that labeling something as "authentic" or "inauthentic" is not an absolute but rather something filtered through individual perspective and interpretation. Thus, it is important to understand both the definitions that have been offered and the perspective of the person evaluating those definitions.

[5.2] Many definitions have been proffered to explain what constitutes filk. Those definitions range from "the folk music of the science fiction and fantasy community" (Shapero) to "filk is anything that happens in a filk circle" to definitions about lyric content:

[5.3] Filk includes songs about every science fiction or fantasy subject you could imagine: outer space (both real and fictional), books, movies, TV shows, dragons, magic, unicorns, vampires, and aliens of every sort. It also includes songs about things of interest to the Science Fiction and Fantasy community (usually referred to as "fandom") and strongly resembles contemporary folk music. (M.A.S.S.F.I.L.C.)

[5.4] One filker, Gary McGath, surveyed the various definitions, sought input from those in the filk community, and attempted to build a more all-encompassing definition. His efforts resulted in the declaration that "filk music is a musical movement among fans of science fiction and fantasy fandom and closely related activities, emphasizing content which is related to the genre or its fans, and promoting broad participation. Filkers are people who participate in this movement" (Filk: A New Definition).

[5.5] Although other definitions do exist, the ones set out above generally represent the spectrum of descriptions offered. But they also conceal some of the sources of disagreement. Perhaps the biggest single factor influencing how one defines filk centers around performance quality. Filk circles are egalitarian and welcoming to all attendees. The result is an uneven quality of musical skill. Filkers range from professional musicians to enthusiastic amateurs who have difficulty carrying a tune. This variation in quality leads many to disparage filk and filkers. At the same time, however, many in the filk community view this inclusive approach as one of the most positive hallmarks of their community.

[5.6] At first glance, that inclusiveness would seem to argue in favor of a conclusion that wizard rock is filk. But even if filkers would reach out to include wrockers, do wrockers want to be considered part of the filk community? Before that question can be answered, it is important to step back and evaluate the various definitions of filk. Which definition is the appropriate one, and does that definition encompass wizard rock?

6. Is wizard rock filk?

[6.1] The definitions of filk discussed above fall into two basic categories, one focusing on the content of the music and the other focusing on who is performing the music. If you adopt any of the definitions focusing on content, wizard rock would appear to be filk. It is about the Harry Potter universe, which in turn is centered around magic, thus putting it clearly within the science fiction and fantasy genre. If you adopt one of the definitions based on community, whether wizard rock is filk will depend on which community—that of fandom in general or the filk community more specifically. Those involved in wizard rock are clearly part of fandom, but they are not part of the filk community.

[6.2] Part of the difficulty with definitions arises because different people approach filk in different ways; it can be one of many activities at a convention, a genre of music, and/or a subculture (as that term is used by sociologists). Definitions of filk will naturally, and obviously, vary depending on who is asked the question and from which perspective they approach filk. As Williams (2006) discussed, there is no rigid test for authenticity in the abstract; claims of authenticity can only be made and evaluated in context.

[6.3] The answer to "Is wizard rock filk?" thus depends on who is answering the question and what perspective that person holds vis-à-vis filk. A group's identity can be defined either by those within the group or by those outside the group. The definitions chosen by insiders and outsiders are likely to differ, as each perspective is defining the group for a particular purpose (Tatum 2000). Insiders form definitions as part of a process of self-identification, both in terms of who they are individually and whom they choose to associate with. Outsiders, however, often choose a definition designed to foster a particular emotional response to the group or to achieve a particular goal (Tatum 2000).

[6.4] In this particular case, we are interested in the insider's definition because we are exploring the question of how filkers view wizard rock. Opting for an insider's perspective does not resolve our difficulties, however, because it is clear that filkers themselves do not agree on a single definition. Although it is folly to insist on unanimity from community members on all issues, the question of a group's identity usually generates at least a core of agreement among the group's members.

[6.5] In reality, there is a core of agreement among filkers about what constitutes filk. The major disagreement is over how to classify songs performed by those who are not active, self-identifying members of the filk community and how to classify the musicians who compose and perform those songs. The definitions of filk that focus on content would reach out to include all songs (and musicians) with a science fiction and fantasy component to them. The definitions of filk that focus on community likely would not.

[6.6] This dispute is not likely to be resolved largely because of the nature of the filk community and of fandom in general. One of the hallmarks of the fandom community, and filk even more specifically, is a tolerance of differing perspectives. Filk and fandom are far from homogenous, in any sense of the word. Filkers and fans come in all races, religions, genders, educational backgrounds, and occupations. Indeed, "filking more often speaks directly about fandom as a distinctive social community," more so than other fan activities, because "while only a small percentage of those attending any given con participate in the filksinging, its ranks typically embody a cross section of the larger fan community" (Jenkins 1992:253–54).

[6.7] Accordingly, I can only answer the question "Is wizard rock filk?" from my own perspective; other people may answer the question very differently. To borrow Williams's language, what I view as authentic in terms of filk is influenced by my perspective and interpreted through the lens of my experiences.

[6.8] How, then, do I define "filk" and the "filk community"? I am drawn to Gary McGath's definition: "Filk music is a musical movement among fans of science fiction and fantasy fandom and closely related activities, emphasizing content which is related to the genre or its fans, and promoting broad participation. Filkers are people who participate in this movement" (Filk: A New Definition). At first, this definition would also appear to encompass wizard rock because wizard rock is a "musical movement" that takes place "among fans of science fiction and fantasy" and that "emphasizes content related to the genre." There are, however, two critical differences: the format of wizard rock, and the lack of overlap between the two communities.

[6.9] First, as to format, wizard rock is not filk because it promotes performance to a particular crowd rather than building a community of performers who perform for each other. The difference between performing for an audience and participating in a music community is an important one. As McGath stated, "More important than [filk's] subject matter is its attitude toward music: that people should make their own music, even if they aren't great at it" (Spirit of Filk). McGath's definition appeals to me because it highlights what I find most noteworthy about filk—the sense of community and the shared enjoyment of both the music and the genre. Sally Childs-Helton, an ethnomusicologist, movingly articulated this in her acceptance speech when she was inducted into the Filk Hall of Fame:

[6.10] Being an ethnomusicologist, I professionally look at the way people use music in their everyday lives. I look at the way that music is expressive of a culture and all the many relationships between music and cultures. All of us were raised in a culture that said, "If you don't have talent, then forget about doing any kind of art." Forget about singing, about dancing, about doing any of those things, and we have to be acculturated out of it…In a way, we've been robbed. We have robbed ourselves of the joy of making music, of dancing, of doing art. [The filk] community has taken that and pitched it out the window and said, "We are making music because we love it, we need to do it, it feeds our souls, it feeds our community, it feed us as individuals." And we do it.

[6.11] One of the great joys for me in this community, is that I see people over the years growing as musicians and growing as human beings. That is not a small accomplishment in this day and age. So, just be aware that we're doing something—I dare use the word revolutionary, but we are—we are taking back our right as human beings to make art. If the rest of the culture was doing this, it would be a very different and much better culture to live in…

[6.12] We have taken our right to be creative and to literally "play" in the best sense of that word. We invite each other out to play. And we do it. We do it with great joy, and we do it with great hearts. We do it with a lot of loving forgiveness for people who are still developing as musicians and may be a little painful at first to listen to. We see the growth, we see the value, we see the community, and I can tell you that as a musical subculture,—if you want to get really academic about it we are a musical subculture—I don't know of one like it anywhere. (Childs-Helton 2003)

[6.13] My first experience as a participant in a filk circle typified this description. I wrote a song as part of a workshop at the 2007 Balticon, a regional science fiction convention held in Maryland, and I nervously took it to the filk room that evening. After a bit of dithering about whether to take a turn—not only because I lack a good singing voice, but also because the circle was full of talented musicians, including the convention's music guests of honor—I chickened out and started putting the music away. I do not play the guitar or any other accompaniment instrument, and the thought of trying to stay at least roughly in the ballpark of the tune without any musical backup was simply overwhelming. I thought I was being discreet, but one of the filkers near me leaned over and asked if I wanted to take a turn, even offering to accompany me (I had the chords but no guitar). I took a deep breath, thought "what the hell," pulled the lyrics back out, and took my turn. When I finished, one of the members of the circle complimented my lyrics and asked for a copy.

[6.14] I would later be comforted by reading Jordin Kare's (1995) statement that the traditional key for filk is "off," and also by my experiences in filk circles over the last 2 years. In all of those circles, I was made to feel welcome. Other scholars have recognized this inclusiveness as a significant factor in defining filk. In his book Textual Poachers, Henry Jenkins observed that

[6.15] filk originated as a form of music that could be sung communally and its pleasure comes less from the quality of its performance than from the sense of community it generates. Filk shares many of the features musicologists have traditionally used to define folk music: oral circulation rather than fixed written texts, continuity within musical tradition, variation in performance, and selection by a community that determines which songs are preserved, which discarded. (1992:268–69)

[6.16] For me, then, perhaps understandably, given my start in filk, the question "What is filk?" can be answered only with reference to the filk community. Wizard rock does not identify itself as filk, nor does it identify itself as part of the filk community. Nowhere in any of the histories of wrock discussed earlier does wizard rock locate its origins in filk. Indeed, it is not clear whether wizard rock bands are even aware of the filk community. In one interview, a member of a wrock band declared, "There is nothing like this anywhere" (Vineyard 2007), even though filk music has existed for decades, and a significant portion of filk music celebrates favorite books and movies.

[6.17] Wizard rock could certainly become part of the filk community by deciding to do so, or deciding for itself that there is a connection between the two communities. Unless or until it does this, however, I do not consider wrockers to be filkers. That conclusion rests partly on my belief that to label wizard rock "filk" would be to force a label on wizard rock that it has not chosen, and each community should have the right to define for itself what its identity will be and who counts as a member of the group. To do otherwise—to broaden the label of filk beyond those who self-identify as members of the community—would put me in the position of an outsider defining a group, which carries inherent dangers (Tatum 2000:12).

[6.18] My major concern rests in the fact that the failure of wizard rock to identify and understand its connections to the filk community carries with it consequences for both groups. Although I've been involved in filk for only 2 years, I have been involved in fandom for a decade. In that decade, I've attended conventions, published short stories, been a guest at conventions, helped run conventions, and witnessed the continued fracturing of fandom into subgroups—anime, graphic novels, gamers, and so on. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with subgroups, and it is perfectly acceptable for people to focus on the aspect of fandom they are drawn to. The problem arises when those groups lose sight of what connects them and when they cease to identify with each other as part of the larger group known as "fandom." Growth and change are critical to the continued health of any culture. Fragmentation and isolation, however, are antithetical to a culture's continued health.

[6.19] Groups who share common origins and identities may be able to draw on each other's resources and expertise. Wizard rock and filk may have overlapping audiences and might benefit from sharing information about venues and schedules to avoid creating conflicts for fans. Wizard rock and filk might also be able to assist each other in solving common problems. For example, both communities are apparently questioning the balance between enthusiasm and quality.

[6.20] I mentioned earlier, one major discussion in the filk community is about quality of performance, an issue that has been percolating for decades. Almost 20 years ago, Jenkins observed that within filk, "a star system has started to emerge as individual performers are drawn from the community…and featured…A form of music founded on ideals of musical democracy, an acceptance of various competencies, has become more hierarchical due to the push toward professional standards of technical perfection" (1992:275).

[6.21] Similar issues also arise in wizard rock. One of the wizard rock Web sites asserts that the "music of wizard rock varies in a number of ways, from recording quality to genre to subject matter…To some, it matters very little if the recording quality or vocal and musical stylings of the performers are not acutely refined…Other individuals would rather only acknowledge wizard rock bands with exceptional musical talent" (Wizrocklopedia). A member of the band Whomping Willows, one of the earliest wrock bands, addressed the controversy by declaring,

[6.22] Half of these bands are populated by kids who are just learning to play an instrument and record music. The beauty of Wizard Rock is that for many of the bands, it's nothing more than a LEARNING EXPERIENCE. We, as the elder statespeople of Wizard Rock, should not be encouraging young people to worry about categorization and public image. We should be encouraging them to HAVE FUN. (

[6.23] Filk has wrestled with this issue far longer than wizard rock and might have some insights to contribute. Conversely, the fact that wizard rock is a much younger genre might mean that it has some fresh perspectives and insights into the issue. But if the two groups are not communicating, they will be unable to share those insights.

[6.24] When groups share common origins and identities but fail to recognize those commonalities, it should lead each group into a round of introspection. That introspection is happening in the filk community, although it is not clear yet what the outcome will be, or even whether anything will change. The filk community on LiveJournal ( debated the issue of whether wizard rock is filk. The discussion started with an observation dated April 26, 2009, by LiveJournal user ultimatepsi:

[6.25] I've noticed an increasing amount of geeky music (nerdcore, video game bands, Wizard Rock, etc) made by people who don't consider themselves filkers…It is unclear to me why few of the new geek musicians are involved with the filk community. Do they not know about it? Are they judging it to be for amateurs? Do they not feel included, perhaps based on musical style, or not directly sci-fi content or some other factor? Do they not want to share performance space? Is there some other cultural factor that creates a divide?

[6.26] The resulting discussion ranged through many of the issues and perspectives that I discuss here, further cementing my belief that no one filker can speak for the entire community as to whether wizard rock is filk. So for this particular filker, the answer to the question "Is wizard rock filk?" is that wizard rock is not filk because the members of the wrock community do not define themselves as filkers. And perhaps the filk community needs to ask itself, as LiveJournal user happyfunpaul does in the same LiveJournal discussion, whether filkers have "become too closed of a circle, and need to open up more? Do we have a reputation that drives people away, or is it just lack of knowledge?" At the same time, filkers need to hold tight to the values that make filk the distinct subculture that I want to be a member of: the values of inclusion and of taking joy in music.

7. Acknowledgments

[7.1] This article would not exist without three groups of people, and I am tremendously grateful for their insights and assistance. First, to the members of the filk community—thank you for sharing the filk world with me. Second, to the organizers and fellow presenters at American University's Sixth Conference on IP/Gender: Mapping the Connections—thank you for providing an opportunity to combine my professional and personal worlds in such an interesting way. Finally, to Cameron Crandall and Lisa Broidy, who served as sounding boards as I wrestled with this project—your comments and suggestions were invaluable, particularly Dr. Broidy, who sent me the article on authentic identities that caused my thoughts to coalesce and allowed this essay to finally take shape.

[7.2] Thanks to Allison Morris for hosting the MP3 files.

8. Notes

1. A number of filk resources are available on the Web, with information ranging from lyrics to explanations of filk and filk etiquette. In this article, I refer to "Filking 101: What Is Filk?", (entry undated); Brooke Lunderville's Web site, (dated June 5, 2009); M.A.S.S.F.I.L.C., "Filk Defined," (dated March 22, 2008); Gary McGath's "Filk: A New Definition," (dated May 13, 2002) and "The Spirit of Filk," (dated May 14, 2002); and Nick Smith's "What the Heck Is Filk Music?", hosted at Kay Shapero's site, (dated January 13, 2009). I cite these parenthetically in the text; the versions I cite were accessed on August 4, 2009.

2. Sound clips are provided by Melissa Tatum and Mary Crowell. Crowell is a prominent filker, both as a solo artist and as a member of the group Three Weird Sisters. Crowell's Web site is, and that of the Three Weird Sisters is and

3. A number of good general wizard rock resources are available on the Web. This article makes use of Wikipedia's "Wizard Rock, Harry Potter Fandom,";'s "What Is Wizard Rock,"; and Wizrocklopedia's "The History of Wrock," I cite these parenthetically in the text; the versions I cite were accessed on August 4, 2009.

9. Works cited

Childs-Helton, Sally. 2003. This is my tribe. Filk Hall of Fame at FilKONtario, March 29. (accessed August 4, 2009).

Davis, Joanna R. 2006. Growing up punk: Negotiating aging identity in a local music scene. Symbolic Interaction 29:63–69. []

Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual poachers. New York: Routledge.

Kare, Jordin. 1995. Filk music? Interfilk, Kare (accessed August 4, 2009). Originally published in Singout Magazine.

Kruse, Holly. 1993. Subcultural identity in alternative music community. Popular Music 12:33–41. []

Peterson, R. A. 2005. In search of authenticity. Journal of Management Studies 42:1083–98. []

Tatum, Melissa L. 2000. Group identity: Changing the outsider's perspective. George Mason University Civil Rights Law Journal 10:357–97.

Vineyard, Jennifer. 2007. Harry Potter fandom reaches magical new level thanks to wizard rock bands., (accessed August 4, 2009).

Williams, J. Patrick. 2006. Authentic identities: Straightedge subculture, music, and the Internet. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35:173–200. []

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