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Mary Crowell, who is a music teacher at Calhoun Community College, became enthralled in the filk music culture. Filk music has many definitions, but is most commonly referred to as a musical culture, genre and community tied to science fiction/fantasy fandom.
Mary Crowell of Athens is a semi-famous filk musician - a little-known genre that began at sci-fi conventions
By Danielle Komis Palmer
firstname.lastname@example.org · 340-2447
When Mary Crowell walked into an Atlanta hotel six years ago, she saw men and women of all ages dancing in a conga line to strange music.
The Athens woman felt like a deer in headlights as she watched the strange scene unfold at her first filk convention her friends dragged her to.
While Crowell's first impression of filk music nearly tempted her to take her 90-pound keyboard and run for the revolving door of the hotel, she stuck it out. The next day, she fell in love with the music when filkers gathered in a circle and played their folky, lyrically driven music together in a circle.
Since then, Crowell has quickly become a local celebrity in the filk world. Crowell, who teaches music at Calhoun Community College, has been toastmistress and performed at numerous filk conventions. She also has been nominated every year since 2003 for a Pegasus Award — the Grammy award of filk music. She loves the filk scene for its openness and dedication to purity in music.
"The neat thing about it is it's almost a community and they encourage the amateur," she said. "They're doing it strictly for the love of it."
So what is filk?
People within the community almost always laugh at that question, because definitions for filk are varied and many. The story goes that the term "filk" sprung from a typo of "folk" music. Filk music originated in the 1950s in hallways at science fiction conventions, where fandom lovers made up songs about their favorite sci-fi stories.
Soon, the music in the hallways became popular enough that entire conventions centered around the lyric-oriented music that focuses on — though is not limited to — science fiction and mythological themes. Songs are also often parodies of well-known songs. Some consider filk not just the music but the community of people involved in making the music.
Her brand of filk
Crowell's song topics run the gamut from lazy summer days to dreams of growing up to become Jessica Rabbit.
Crowell's award-winning song called "Legolas" about Orlando Bloom's character in "Lord of the Rings" goes a little something like this (imagine a jazz beat):
"I like to watch him on the silver screen,
Built like I like 'em, he is long and lean.
Yes, he is, And I am his.
Gotta thing for an elf, can't help myself,
Crowell's music is different from some filk music because it is jazzier and played on a keyboard. Many filkers play portable instruments like guitars or banjos.
Because Crowell holds a doctorate in musical composition and a master's in musicology, her initial entrance to filk circles stirred resentment among a few filkers, she said. Many filk musicians possess no musical training and play music only as a pastime and fiercely protect filk's amateur status. But for the most part, everyone was extremely accepting and encouraging, she said.
While Crowell says she did not impress many filkers at her first convention, her friend Brenda Sutton remembers otherwise.
"We just ate her up," said Sutton, a longtime filker and organizer of GAfilk convention in Atlanta. "She was marvelous."
So marvelous in fact, that Crowell later became part of Sutton's band called "Three Weird Sisters."
"There isn't anyone else who sings like she does or performs like she does," Sutton said. "Some folks didn't know what to make of her when she first came down the tread."
Crowell's husband Wesley, whom Crowell met while playing Dungeons & Dragons, said it has been fascinating to learn about filk.
"I didn't know of the existence of this style of music. We've always been big sci- fi and fantasy fans so it was sort of a natural progression," he said. "We sort of learned about it together."
However, Wesley said he is "strictly an audience member" and is happy to sit back and watch his wife perform.
The two hope to create a North Alabama group of filkers soon, because they typically must travel to Atlanta for conventions and "house filks" where filkers gather at someone's house to casually play.
'Courting My Muse'
Crowell recently released her first album of filk songs called "Courting My Muse." The CD includes "Legolas" and 14 other songs. While filk songs can be somewhat out-of-the-ordinary, Crowell chose more mainstream songs for the album to appeal to a broader audience.
The album is available at Pablo's on Market Street in Athens and online at www.cdbaby.com and www.amazon.com.
For more information on filk music, check out a short documentary at www.pba.org/programming/programs/thisisatlanta/filkmusic.
On the Net
For more information on Mary Crowell, visit www.magnusretail.com.
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