Press-Citizen article on “Hoping Machine”

The following article appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on November 10, 2013.

Family Folk Machine Concert November 24: Hoping Machine

by Jean Littlejohn

hopingmachine_flyers“Don’t let anything knock your props out from under you…Whatever you do, wherever you go, don’t lose your grip on life, and that means don’t let any earthly calamity knock your dreamer and your hoping machine out of order.”

The Family Folk Machine’s fall concert (November 24, 3 p.m., at the Senior Center) is named for this song, “Hoping Machine,” with words by Woody Guthrie and new music by Jay Farrar. All the songs on our program center on the idea of hope, expressed in different ways. In Neil Young’s “Light a Candle,” we sing about leaving a legacy of hope for those who come after us (“Light a candle in the darkness when you go”). Some of the songs offer encouragement in hard times (the Beatles’ “Let It Be” and “Blackbird”), and others express a defiantly hopeful outlook, like Pete Seeger’s “Quite Early Morning” (“Through all this world of joy and sorrow, we still can have singing tomorrows”).

Hope can be enacted in a journey, as in the traditional spiritual “Come and Go With Me To That Land.” The FFM kids will lead this song, singing verses they supplied like “There will be fun in that land.” “Follow the Drinking Gourd” is a powerful song whose lyrics are encoded instructions for slaves trying to make their way north on the Underground Railroad.

Two of our songs use imagery from the changing seasons to underline their hopeful theme. “Julian of Norwich” incorporates words from its namesake 14th-century mystic: “Let the winter come and go; all shall be well again, I know.” “Fall Song” paints an impressionistic view of fall and winter and expresses a child’s joy at playing outdoors. The kids of the FFM are very excited to offer a world premiere of this song, written by the FFM’s own Stella Demarest and her mom, Katie Roche.

The end of the program comes around to the bolstering of hope by personal relationships. Yo La Tengo’s new song, “The Point of It,” accepts the gifts of maturity and love while letting go of the fantasies of youth: “Say that we’re afraid, say the night is cold; Honey, that’s okay, if we’re getting old, if we’re not so strong, if our story’s told; that’s the point of being loved.” And Pete Seeger’s rollicking “Precious Friend” joyfully affirms our ability to lift one another up: “Just when I thought all was lost, you changed my mind.”

The Family Folk Machine has enjoyed a fantastic fall, adding new members to our group and singing at a lovely picnic of the Iowa River Friends in September. And we are looking forward to participating in the Englert’s Festival of Carols on December 11 at 7:00 p.m. The Family Folk Machine is a Senior Center group open to anyone who loves to sing, and we will have a few openings in January if you’d like to join us. We’re especially looking for people in the grandparent generation. We’ll be hosting a Community Folk Sing at Uptown Bill’s on Saturday, November 9, from 3:00 to 4:30; please come and request some favorite songs. We hope to see you at our concert on November 24!