Press-Citizen column about the fall FFM season

Press-Citizen Community Music column September 1, 2018

by Jean Littlejohn

The Family Folk Machine has begun rehearsals for our fall program, “Stand by Me: Songs of Friendship.” We’re learning arrangements of well-known songs like Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender” and our title song, “Stand by Me,” along with lesser-known songs that reflect on friendship from a variety of angles. The program is a mix of rock songs, traditional folk songs, contemporary folk songs, and original songs.

Being able to present original songs highlights an area of growth for the Family Folk Machine. Last fall we welcomed Nicole Upchurch as associate director, and she has started a songwriting curriculum with the FFM kids. Last spring the kids split into five groups and created five completely original songs; they were able to perform these songs on the Family Stage at the Iowa Arts Festival and at an event for Take a Kid outdoors.

“Autumn Wind,” one of the songs written by FFM kids last spring, will be featured on this fall’s concert in an arrangement for the full choir. The song reflects on the change from summer to fall. The songwriters met with Nicole, local songwriter Gayla Drake, and me to complete final touches on the song before adapting it for the full FFM ensemble, and the result is a beautiful song about how a friend can help you weather life’s changes.

There will be two FFM songwriting projects during the month of September. The younger FFM kids will be writing a song about friendship under Nicole’s guidance, and Gayla will be teaching a songwriting class to a group of teens and adults. Part of the mission of the Folk Machine is to foster individual musical growth, and it’s fantastic to have these new opportunities for individuals to increase their musicianship and hone their creative abilities.

Expanding our leadership has been possible in part due to a new organizational structure. Last spring, the Family Folk Machine became an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Our previous five years of existence had been under the umbrella of the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center. The Senior Center supported and nurtured us from an idea into a robust reality, and we are happy to be maintaining a close working relationship with the Center and its staff. Meanwhile, Nicole and I and our new board are learning about budgets and best practices and record-keeping—definitely an area of individual growth for me.

The FFM 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. As I’ve been working on the song arrangements, I’ve realized that these concerts are going to be very special because of the unusually personal and reflective nature of these friendship-themed songs. I hope you can be there!