Press-Citizen article about FFM fall concerts

This column appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on Saturday, November 3.

by Jean Littlejohn

The Family Folk Machine will present “Stand by Me: Songs of Friendship” in two concerts this November in intimate spaces: Sunday, November 11, at 3 p.m. at the Senior Center; and Saturday, November 17, at 3 p.m. at the Old Capitol’s Senate Chamber. Since we’re an intergenerational choir, the songs on the program reflect on friendship through the course of our lives: friendship between children, in the teen years, adult friendships, and even friendship beyond the grave.
The younger kids of the Folk Machine will be presenting the premiere of their song “A Friend Is Who I Am” at our concerts. It’s quite a feat to write a song as a group and prepare it for performance in a few short weeks! This new song is catchy and charming, and it benefits from a swinging ukulele part by Nicole Upchurch and the crystalline sounds of a banjo ukulele (“banjolele”?), played by Craig “Pappy” Klocke.
One of the beautiful things about working with the Family Folk Machine is witnessing the transformation that sometimes occurs when a familiar song is brought to life by a community of singers. Many of us have heard these lyrics a hundred times: “When the night has come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we see; No, I won’t be afraid, just as long as you stand by me.” When we sing these words as a group, though, instead of a song that’s just about a couple of loyal friends, we have a vision of what we as a community can be for each other when things in our land are dark.
Friendship can help us through hard times. We’ll sing Pete Seeger’s “Precious Friend”: “Just when I thought all was lost, you changed my mind.” Our group of seventh-graders will sing, “Those who feel the breath of sadness, sit down next to me,” from a song by the band James.
A song on the concert program that’s a favorite among our choir members is “Little Bird,” by the Iowa City band The Weepies. It’s a gorgeous and elegantly crafted song, and in our interpretation it expresses the way a friend can help you when it seems like the world is against you: “They tell me I’m crazy, but you told me I’m golden.” Our arrangement of the song will feature the rich guitar playing of Gayla Drake and the intergenerational FFM string ensemble.
It has been wonderful to add Gayla to our band this fall. We’re enjoying the talents of two other new musicians as well: Jon Ranard is joining us on piano, and Scott Wittenkeller is adding drums and percussion to our songs. These two versatile and sensitive musicians join Tara McGovern, Craig “Pappy” Klocke, Jim Schepker, Dave Parsons, Nicole Upchurch, and Jeffrey C. Capps for a stellar instrumental line-up, augmented by our string ensemble and even some brass instruments.
Please join us on November 11 or November 17 for uplifting and thought-provoking songs about friendship. There will be lots of opportunities for singing along, and we need your voice.

Jean Littlejohn lives with her family in Iowa City and directs the Family Folk Machine.