The Family Folk Machine Performance Set to Brighten Community

“Many Voices/One Voice: We Are One Community,” the spring concert of the Family Folk Machine, will come to life on Saturday, May 11 at 2 p.m. at the Englert Theatre in beautiful downtown Iowa City.

We hope you can join us for this musical extravaganza reflecting on what it means to live in community with our neighbors on a local, national, and global level.

The concert takes its name from the Wailin’ Jennys song “One Voice,” in which voices gradually add together until we get to “the sound of all of us, singing with love and the will to trust.” But when we combine all our voices, we end up with “one voice: one people, one voice, a song for every one of us.” Building a choir by adding together different voices is like building a community by bringing together people with different skills, ideas, backgrounds, and experiences. Our differences make our community strong.

The choir-as-community metaphor gets a good treatment in The Who’s “Join Together.” We don’t care what you eat or what you wear, you don’t have to move in any particular direction—we just want you to join together with the band (and sing along). Once we’re together, we have work to do to improve our community and our world. We’ll sing “With every voice, with every song, we will move this world along” in Ruth Pelham’s “Turning of the World” and “Make this land a better land” in Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can,” and we’ll follow those up with Wilbert Harrison’s blues tune “Let’s Work Together.”

Woody Guthrie teaches us that we can brighten up our communities just by greeting our neighbors and shaking hands. The FFM kids will invite us to be their neighbors in the classic song from Mr. Rogers, and they’ll present an original song they adapted from the kids of Prairie Green School about saying hello to new places and people.

John Prine draws our attention to neighbors who need a hand in his 2018 song “Knockin’ on Your Screen Door,” and the British band Field Music asks us to count up facets of our life that contribute to our privilege: “If you can go through day to day without the fear of violence, count that up…If you can turn on the tap and your kids can drink the water, count that up.” Once you’ve made a count, “Use the breath you have left to say something that matters.

“We’re excited to be expanding our instrumental palette with this concert. For the Sly and the Family Stone song “Everybody Is a Star,” we’ll feature the first-ever FFM horn section. Several songs will incorporate a string section, but “One Voice” will be introduced with our first-ever FFM cello choir: six cellos playing in harmony. Behind these rotating colors will be our stellar FFM band.

Hope to see you on May 11 at 2 p.m.! The concert is free, although we will gratefully accept donations to support our non-profit organization.

For more information about the Family Folk Machine, e-mail Jean at Rehearsals for our fall session will begin August 18.

Originally published in the April 26, 2019 Press Citizen.

Family Folk Machine Launches New Project

The Family Folk Machine, Iowa City’s intergenerational choir, has a four-part mission: to build community by singing songs with our neighbors, to explore American history and culture through song, to foster individual musical development, and to pursue excellence as an ensemble. Our goal to foster individual musical development has received a big boost this year through a couple of new projects spearheaded by FFM associate director Gayla Drake.

Drawing on her own background as a songwriter, Gayla taught a songwriting class for the FFM last fall for high-schoolers and adults, to complement the songwriting curriculum that FFM associate director Nicole Upchurch has developed for the FFM kids. This spring, Gayla established the Family Folk Machine Shop, an ongoing workshop where experienced FFM songwriters can meet and share their work. One of the songs that emerged from last fall’s songwriting class will appear in the May FFM concert. City High 9th-graders Alice Boerner and Callista Robertson wrote the song “Silence without Sound,” and after lots of revising and arranging, the Family Folk Machine singers, band, and string players are now learning the song for performance. It’s a beautiful song that expresses what it’s like to find your voice and learn to use it.

This January, we began another new project: the Family Folk Machine Shed. Also Gayla’s brainchild, the Shed is a monthly enrichment class focused on skills. Craig “Pappy” Klocke, the Machine’s instrumental instructor, led a Shed class introducing choir members of all ages to the ukulele; Gayla led a session called “Singing while You Strum: The Struggle Is Real”; and Pappy taught a class on the mountain dulcimer. Gayla and FFM choral instructor Jon Ranard are planning a fourth session on interval training for singers. It’s been exciting to have so many resources and opportunities available for musical growth.

Increased staff and new initiatives have been part of the FFM’s blossoming since becoming an independent non-profit last spring. We have a fantastic board of directors led by FFMer Aprille Clarke, and we are learning how to run an organization. You can support our efforts while eating dinner with the Machine by joining us for a share-the-profits Community Night at Hudson’s Southside Tap on Wednesday, March 27, from 5 to 10 p.m.

And do make plans to join us for our spring concert! Many Voices/One Voice: We Are One Community will take place on Saturday, May 11, at 2 p.m. at the Englert Theatre. We need you there to sing along with “De Colores,” “Join Together,” and “Instant Karma.” You’ll want to hear our first-ever FFM cello choir on the song “One Voice” and our FFM horn section on “Everybody Is a Star.” We’re working up songs about being friendly with our neighbors, welcoming immigrants, being there for those who have fallen on hard times, and counting up the privileges we have. Hope to see you there!

Originally published in the March 8, 2109 Press Citizen.

The Traveling Kind

“The Traveling Kind” on November 15th at the Senior Center and November 22nd at the Old Capitol building in the Senate chamber!

One of the purposes of our intergenerational, non-auditioned choir is to explore American culture and history through song, and this fall we will reflect on the joys of rambling around and the importance placed on transportation in American life.IMG_3266 2

Our set list this time around:

Erie Canal

City of New Orleans

Urge for Going

I Am a Wanderer




Wait for the Wagon


Long Time Traveler

Wabash Cannonball

Hobo’s Lullaby

Hard Travelin’

Ramblin’ Boy

500 Miles

Rock Island

The Traveling Kind


The Traveling Kind song highlights: Hobo’s Lullaby

Hobo's LullabyLong

by Tammy Coverdale-Bauer

This song was written by Goebel Reeves and performed by many artists including Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Emmylou Harris, and The Kingston Trio. What’s interesting to me is that its music is nearly identical to popular Civil War Era composer George F. Root’s song, “Just Before The Battle, Mother” and is reminiscent of the Carter Family song, “Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes.”

Another version of the song was recorded by Sharon, Lois, and Bram in 1979, which appeared in their Elephant Show in 1985.

This isn’t just an American song either, Hobo’s Lullaby has been translated and sung in French by Graeme Allwright. Here’s a link to the French version:
And here’s an Arlo Guthrie version with some great images to go with this heartfelt song: