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.