Reminisce With Me/The Music of the Spheres

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You may be looking for the unpublished manuscript for the Star Trek tie-in book, "Music of the Spheres" which became the book Probe.

The following represents the 2008 fannish memories of Nancy Kippax, which she recorded on LJ in the last months of her life. Permission to archive these memories has been granted to Fanlore by April Valentine.

Jun. 16th, 2008

From time to time in my previous posts, I've made mention of certain pieces of music or songs that complemented the other creative output of "Star Trek" fandom. I'd like to take this opportunity to delve a little deeper into that arena. The Performing Arts. Music and Lyrics by the Talented Fen.
Long before "Star Trek" fandom, there was science fiction fandom. And within that culture there was a musical tradition that was known as "Filk Singing", or just "Filking". A "filk song" could be one where a known tune was employed and matched up with original words in what was often a parody and usually referenced some work of science fiction. It could also be an original melody with original words, again referencing a science fiction or fantasy novel, story, or universe. The music was often accompanied by guitar, although other instruments were sometimes used. The name, "filking" originated in early SF fandom, when the words on a convention program book contained a tiny typo – it read "filk singing" instead of "folk singing", and from that simple mistake, a new name was captured and took hold.
Even Leonard Nimoy jumped on the band wagon. On his first album of music (Yes, he sings, too!) he recorded a Lord of the Rings song called "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins". (". . .Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins/Only three feet tall/Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins/Greatest little Hobbit of them all. . .") It would, by any definition, be considered a filk song!
As the "Star Trek" experience grew and evolved, the concept and tradition of "filking" was introduced to a whole new audience of listeners, and new performers cut their teeth on this genre. Very early on, at what I think was an August Party convention at the University of Maryland, I listened to filker Greg Baker sing his ditty called "Let Me Be Your Pon Farr Doll." (to the tune of "Let Me Be Your Party Doll")". . .Seven years or not at all/Baby, let me be your pon farr doll. . ." It was a rollicking tune and a barrel of laughs! Another talented performer, T. J. Burnside, once made herself up as a Tellerite [sic] (those cute little blue-skinned aliens with antennae on their heads) [1] and came on stage to sing the sultry ballad, "Am I Blue. . ." She had them rolling in the aisles! At almost every convention, there was an hour or two set aside for spontaneous filking, a kind of precursor to the Open Mike idea that was still several decades away. Fans always made their own fun in whatever way they could dream up!
At conventions, there were both performances where an audience just sat and listened, and the "Bardic Circle" where filkers and listeners sat in a circle. As they went around the circle, each filker would do a song – one of their own or one by someone else – and the audience either listened or sang along if it was familiar.
In those ultra-creative early days of fandom, there came a new kind of "filk" that wasn't really a filk. Talented musicians, song writers and guitarists, were fashioning a new breed of songs. Not campy. Not funny. Far removed from any traditional science fiction works. Songs that were slow and meaningful. Love songs. Rousing melodies that stirred the hearts of all devoted fans of "Star Trek".
Leading the pack, and perhaps I'm slightly prejudiced, was a group that called themselves the Omicron Ceti III, named after the planet from the episode, "This Side of Paradise". The group began as three, later became four, and later still was five. Their first tune, a true "filk", where new words were written to a familiar tune, was "You're My Home, Enterprise" to the melody of "Take Me Home Country Roads" by John Denver. The three Baltimoreans, [April Valentine], Rodney and Kathy, performed at Bi-Centennial Ten in New York City and took home a prize.
Yet even in this innocuous little song, the theme of the Kirk-Spock relationship played a part. (". . .And the friendship/formed within her/Man and Vulcan/bonded forever. . .") Oh, yes – [April Valentine] was on a roll!
The late Carolyn Venino of New Jersey was a talented musician in her own right, and she became part of the group, adding another dimension to their music. She would travel from just outside New York City down to Baltimore to rehearse their music with the original OC III.
In the months and years to follow, [April Valentine]'s songs would complement all of our major stories, the zines of friends would have a title song, and relationship tune after relationship tune rolled out for our pleasure and enjoyment. The group performed at nearly all east coast conventions, plus entertained we local fen at every party and gathering. They were a staple at all our room parties.
After filk singer/guitarist Leslie Fish recorded a cassette of her music, an album titled "Filk Songs for Folk Who Ain't Even Been Yet," the OC III were encouraged to cut an album of their own -- that's a vinyl record, folks -- which was called "The Colors of Love". The title song, ". . .I've traveled forever/Searching in space/For something I've just dreamed of/. . .theirs is the look of friendship's face/And bright is the color of love. . ." was included, along with ten other original songs. One of their early signature pieces was called "Song for the Angel" and was a heart-breaking ballad that addressed the death of Edith Keeler in "City on the Edge of Forever", It was one of the few non-relationship songs written by the group.
They had their own following of fans, people like me who were content just to sit and listen and enjoy their music. When they performed on stage at cons, certain individuals would position themselves in the best seats and tape record, on an audio cassette player, the entire performance, and we'd see the same faces each and every time. It was truly a tribute to their overwhelming popularity and to the fact that their music spoke to so many.
[April Valentine] decided that they needed another male presence to balance out the female voices, so Bev's husband, Russ, stepped up to the plate and joined the group. Carolyn went on to form her own group, the "Gemini People" with a friend in New Jersey.
A year or two after the first album, OC III cut a second album, this time in a larger recording studio. It was reproduced in both vinyl and cassette and was titled, "Only Stars Can Last". They also invited other filking fen to join them when they cut a master tape called "OC III and Friends", which was made available on cassette tape. New York's Leslye L., was featured, and Jean S., and the Gemini People. There was even a LotR song from a high school friend of [April Valentine] and Rodney.
After the second album, Kathy "retired". Enter Marguerite to fill the void, although now they were down to one guitar and four voices. Is this beginning to sound a little bit like "Creque Alley" by the Mamas and the Papas – or is that reference too ancient history for the younger of you? Seriously, though, we're covering a period of almost ten years, and there were a lot of fluctuations in the individual lives of these musicians! For a while, they even added a fifth "Ceti", a friend named Marcia, who played a mean guitar.
My sister, Bev Volker, a talented poet and lyricist herself, wrote the words for many of the songs performed by the Gemini People and some by OC III. It was Bev and Carolyn who wrote the lullaby, "Star Child" as a present for [April Valentine] at her baby shower, a most appreciated gift! A poem that Bev wrote, based on the end of our story, "The Rack", was put to music by Carolyn and was one of the most hauntingly beautiful, tear-jerkingest things you ever heard! (". . .Still see the stars/Persist to shine/And planets spin their way/ Still poets strive/To pen their lines/As night gives on to day/. . .Oh, marvel, I/That it must be/That space and suns go on/He turns his face toward the wall/Where is the rest of me?")
I can honestly state that I have never been involved in any other fandom where music has played such an integral part, and where I have had the pleasure of being part of the cheering section for so many talented people. It added a dimension that was so satisfying to me, personally. I didn't write lyrics. I didn't sing, except badly and when well covered by a multitude of voices. I didn't play a musical instrument, couldn't even strum a guitar. But, boy, could I enjoy! I was always there in the audience, singing along – I knew all the lyrics by heart – content to just sit back and let the emotions tug me along.
[April Valentine] went on to embrace other fandoms as well, and she even wrote music for "Starsky & Hutch", but in my opinion, nothing compared to the work she did for Trek. Trek was special. It was Trek alone that was the inspiration for so many lovely songs. It was the Kirk-Spock relationship that was responsible for such an outpouring of creativity.
Eventually, the groups all disbanded, the solo singers fell silent, and the music became an occasional treat. [April Valentine] still carried her guitar everywhere for a few more years, and then that, too, began to wane. I think part of what killed it was another creative endeavor, the song video. Now anyone, whether or not they could sing or play a guitar, could create a musical expression with the help of film clips and a good dubbing machine. The face of fandom was changing again and live performances gave way to videotaped scenes and song tracks.
In the early years of the new Millennium, [April Valentine] and Kathy teamed up one last time, and [April Valentine] wrote one of her most beautiful songs, this one directed at the fading fandom we had all embraced so passionately. "When the Fen Come Together" paid tribute to those who had passed away, and those who had just gone away. . .
"When the fen come together/For one last voyage home/I will be there/I will be there/I will be there. . ."
And I will. For that last voyage and for every one that may yet come to be.


  1. ^ Nancy misspoke: it was an Andorian.