Press-Citizen column about the Fall 2019 FFM session

Community Music Column Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 10, 2019
Family Folk Machine

by Jean Littlejohn

The Family Folk Machine is Iowa City’s intergenerational, non-auditioned community choir. We’ll begin our fall session with rehearsal on August 18 at the Senior Center, working toward a November 17 concert at the Englert Theatre on the theme “One Family.”

With each semester, we bring some new singers into our fold. This fall we will present an “Introduction to the Machine” session at 1:30 on August 18 to help new members learn about how we operate. The beginning of fall is a great time to try something new, like singing with a choir. It’s good for your health and well-being!

Our songs this fall will focus on the different stages of life, family relationships, and the way a caring community can function like a family for individuals. The FFM kids will present Pete Seeger’s story-song “Abiyoyo,” in which a ukulele-playing boy helps save his town from a terrible giant. Our junior-high group will perform the Bob Dylan classic “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” The Folk Machine is fortunate to have a formidable group of junior-high students, and these kids are not afraid to call society to account and to tell the adults in their world to get out of the way “if you can’t lend your hand.”

From the parents’ side of things, we’ll be learning to sing the beautiful and mystical “Flower of the Universe,” a recent song by Sade that was part of the movie A Wrinkle in Time. We’ll reflect on how you can try to be like your children, but “you cannot make them just like you,” as the song “On Children” teaches in a setting by Sweet Honey in the Rock.
FFM Associate Director Nicole Upchurch will share her singing gifts with us this fall in her song “Let Her Learn,” which she often sings with her band the Awful Purdies. We’ll back her up with our full choir and band as she sings about women in her life who have inspired her: “I’m grateful for my family, linked not by blood but by unity.”

We’re looking forward to presenting some other home-grown songs in our fall session, too. Last fall FFM Associate Director Gayla Drake started a songwriting workshop for Folk Machinists, and this fall we are programming three songs that were developed within the workshop context. “Little Disasters,” by Aprille Clarke, is a humorous reflection on the twists and turns life takes. “Hidden Youth,” by Susan Stamnes, addresses the challenges of aging—but in a light-hearted manner. Gayla collaborated with Jerry Partridge to create the song “Homeward Bound,” which explicitly presents the idea of all humanity as one family. We recognize our brother, sister, father, daughter in each new person we meet.

We’re grateful for our Family, and you’re welcome to join us. If you’d like to learn more about the Family Folk Machine, please visit or send an e-mail to

Article originally published in the Iowa City Press Citizen: New songs and old feature in Family Folk Machine’s fall repertoire.