The Gray Man Unplugged — ‘Help My Unbelief’

I know this video is nothing special — it’s just me and my guitar, shot with my phone, no frills, no special effects — but I think the song itself might speak to just about everybody at some point in their life. I think most of us struggle with doubt from time to time, and “Help My Unbelief” is a song about doubt and the desire to overcome it.

The studio version of the song is much better, of course. But in whatever format, this is one of the more personal songs I’ve written. I wrote it in 2012, and I actually sang it in church long before we recorded it for the CD. When I introduced it in church, I said something about “Doubting Thomas” being one of my heroes for being willing to admit his doubt, and how much I identify with the city official who said, “Lord, I believe — help my unbelief.”

If you’ve struggled with doubt, I hope this song gives you some comfort that you’re not alone. And if you know someone who is struggling, or who might want to use the song in a service, by all means feel free to share it with them.

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And now, a word from our sponsor: “Help My Unbelief” appears on Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, a “compendium of musical selections inspired or influenced by science fiction, fantasy, life, and faith … a multitude of things.” It’s not all serious songs — I tried to balance silly and serious songs on the album — though even some of my science fiction and fantasy songs often end up being serious.

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If the embedded video doesn’t work, here’s a direct link to the “Help My Unbelief” ‘unplugged’ Video.

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The Pegasus Award Brainstorming Poll is Open!

What science fiction or fantasy-related music would you like to see on the Pegasus Award ballot next year?

Pegasus Award Logo

Opening the “brainstorming” phase signals the start of the 2015 awards cycle for the Pegasus Awards for “filk” — the music of science fiction and fantasy fandom. The Pegasus Awards are awarded at (and administered by) the Ohio Valley Filk Fest each October; in fact, the 2014 awards were just handed out last weekend.

The brainstorming phase is conducted via this online poll that allows anyone to nominate up to five songs and performers, in four permanent and two rotating categories. The 2015 categories are:

  • Best Filk Song — Any song is eligible that has not previously won a Pegasus Award or been on the final ballot in this category in the last 2 years
  • Best Classic Filk Song — Any well-known filk song that is at least 10 years old, has not previously won a Pegasus Award, and has not been on the final ballot in this category in the last 2 years
  • Best Writer/Composer — Any writer/composer of filk songs who has not won this Pegasus Award in the past 5 years
  • Best Performer — Any performer in the filk community who has not won this Pegasus Award in the past 5 years
  • 2015 Rotating Category: Best Adapted Song — Parodies, pre-existing lyrics set to new music (e.g., a Kipling poem), or other material adapted to filk
  • 2015 Rotating Category: Best Time-Related Song — Because it’s OVFF’s 31st anniversary and the 31st wedding anniversary is the “timepiece” anniversary, any songs related to time

Anyone who has an interest in science fiction and/or fantasy-related music may be considered part of the “filk community” and can participate in brainstorming possible nominees, nominating, and voting. The award by-laws define “exhibiting interest” using examples such as filking at SF&F conventions, attending filk conventions or “house sings,” taking part in related on-line forums, and just “discussing filk and filk related issues with other filkers.”

If you made it this far in this post or have read any of my previous filk-related posts, you can probably claim to have exhibited interest and would therefore be qualified to participate in the Pegasus Award process. So if you have a favorite you’d like to suggest, fill out the Brainstorming Poll Form. And unlike elections for public office, you’re allowed to fill out as many brainstorming forms as you like!

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If You’re a Teacher or a Parent, You Should Get to Know Tim Griffin’s Music

Last month I introduced my newsletter readers* to Tim Griffin, whose music I encountered at the World Science Fiction Convention this past August.


(Tim Griffin.)

My expectations for the World Science Fiction Convention in London were very high, and while the overall trip was awesome the convention had some ups and downs. As with any big convention, I didn’t get to see everyone or do everything I wanted, but one bright spot was the music portion, the best part of which was getting to meet Tim Griffin, who was one of the finalists for this year’s Pegasus Awards.

If you or someone you know is a parent or teacher, and might appreciate amusing songs that sneak in a bit of educational content, Tim Griffin is a name you should know and http://www.griffined.org/ is a website you should visit early and often. The first song Tim played had me hooked:

Aristotle said the world is a ball
Unrolled a scroll and made a map of it all
He put the planets in the sky, moving round the Earth every day
Copernicus drew a very different one
Pictured all the planets going ‘round the Sun
Then Galileo built a telescope and said, “Hey, it sure looks that way.”

You know that each generation learns a little bit more
Pulling back the curtain, opening up the door
But it’s only when we’re standing on the shoulders of giants
We can see the things we didn’t before

While he was singing I made a note on my phone — “shoulders of giants” — because I knew I wanted to learn more about his music.

Tim’s songs are enjoyable just from the standpoint of being catchy tunes, but what makes them unique is that most of them have educational components because he was a science teacher. I talked with him several times and found out that he runs a nonprofit educational foundation that produces music and makes it available — free! — to educators and anyone else who’s interested. Not only does he provide the songs for free download on his website, but he also provides the lyrics and in many cases includes references to educational standards that the songs address (e.g., California state standards, Common Core), and sometimes includes suggestions for educational activities to accompany the songs.

Tim pointed out to me that teachers don’t have to use the songs in an overt manner: the songs can be effective even if they’re only played as background music during what would normally be a non-educational part of the day, such as when the children have just come in from lunch or recess and are getting ready to start the next lesson. His foundation has conducted some research into music and learning retention, and the results have been quite positive, but even without that the music itself is worth a listen.

Check out his website, listen to a few of the songs, and if you like what you hear, buy one of his CDs or make a tax-deductible donation to the foundation — but even more importantly, share the music (or this blog post) with a teacher or principal or librarian.

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*Yeah, I have a newsletter I send out sometimes. You can sign up for it here.

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P.S. Seriously, if you know any teachers who may be looking for an innovative way to introduce science and math and technology topics to their students, please forward this to them!

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Reminder: Vote for the Pegasus Awards!

This is your public service announcement: It’s time to vote for the annual Pegasus Awards for Excellence in Filking — i.e., for excellence in science fiction and fantasy-related music. (Note that yours truly is not on the ballot.)

Pegasus Award Logo
(Pegasus Award Logo.)

So you can make an informed vote, the 2014 Pegasus Final Ballot includes audio snippets of each finalist in every category:

  • Best Filk Song
  • Best Classic (at least 10 years old) Filk Song
  • Best Performer
  • Best Writer/Composer
  • Best Adapted Song (2014 Rotating Category)
  • Best Song of Passage (2014 Rotating Category)

Just by virtue of reading this post, you should be eligible to vote, since anyone who has an interest in science fiction and/or fantasy music is considered part of the “filk community.” The award by-laws define “exhibiting interest” using such activities as filking at SF&F conventions, attending filk conventions or “house sings,” taking part in related on-line forums, and just “discussing filk and filk related issues with other filkers.” I’m willing to count this as a discussion if you are!

The last full day to vote is October 19th, so you have two weeks to get your votes in! The Pegasus Awards will be presented at the Ohio Valley Filk Fest, October 24-6, in Worthington, OH.

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