Aprille Clarke’s FFM Community Music column March 13

FFM board president Aprille Clarke wrote this column for the Press-Citizen

With a light at the end of the tunnel, Family Folk Machine remains a source of joy, music, support

As optimism grows, vaccine distribution widens and spring lifts our spirits, Family Folk Machine is taking tentative steps toward a more traditional choir-like experience.

In the meantime, the final installment of our One Planet online mini-concert series will premiere on YouTube on Sunday, March 21, at 3 p.m. You’ll hear a fantastic arrangement from Associate Director Jon Ranard of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” visit National Parks with global hero Dolly Parton on her song “If We Don’t,” and enjoy Billy Swan’s “I Can Help.” For that song, Associate Director Gayla Drake and Claire Sauder retooled some of the lyrics to reflect our conservation goals. Family Folk Machine members also contributed original compositions. Susan Stamnes’s “The Quiet” is a heartbreaking reflection on humans’ impact on bird populations, and a group of Family Folk Machine kids worked together to write “Hickory Hill,” an ode to a favorite local park.

We’re excited to showcase the voices and instrumental performances of our members, both geographically near and distant. In fact, one of the best parts of the 2020-21 virtual choir experience has been the participation of folks from outside the Iowa City area. We’ve seen old friends return and made new ones, including participants from Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, South Carolina and England. In 2020, we did nearly all our work independently, but we’ve since moved to an interactive model. We still meet on Zoom and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, but regular group rehearsals have gotten us back into the habit of singing, though we stay muted for cacophony prevention.

Executive and Artistic Director Jean Littlejohn has developed a strategy and curriculum to keep us singing and thinking. While we are not preparing for a specific live concert at this time, Jean is introducing new material that will likely culminate in one or more videos. She also builds social time, music theory instruction and “vocal calisthenics” into our rehearsals. It’s not exactly the same as the in-person experience, but it’s rewarding to work toward goals simultaneously with other members. We’ve also been enjoying low-stress, low-commitment singalongs and open mic events. It’s not too late to join, either. Contact jean@familyfolkmachine.org for more information.

The focus of a recent singalong was a deep dive into the song “All Together Now” by OK Go, which was written about living and making music in COVID times. As we learned the song and discussed the lyrics, we had a chance to reflect on our own experiences. We remembered people we’ve lost and how our perspectives have changed. The line “A million knots that we were told can’t be untied, would always hold, all unraveling” was especially resonant. In a time when everything’s felt uncertain, when sacred institutions suddenly lost meaning and priorities shifted swiftly, the knot of Family Folk Machine has been an anchor. In its varied forms, Family Folk Machine has helped many of us maintain vital community ties. We hope you can find sources of joy, music and support, whether through Family Folk Machine or other channels. Visit Facebook.com/FamilyFolkMachine for updates about our March 21 mini-concert and other events.