Program Notes for Many Voices/One Voice: We Are One Community

Many Voices/One Voice: We Are One Community

This collection of songs surrounds us with reflections on human togetherness. We join together, we work together, we get together with one another. We don’t live in isolation, and we all know that our world will improve if we learn how to live and work together more harmoniously. These songs offer some suggestions: “I feel glad and you feel good; we brighten up our neighborhood” when we greet the people we encounter and when we “say hello to a beloved stranger”; “Use your democratic power for the good of somebody else”; “Make this land a better land … reach your hand to another hand, with the kindness that you give.”

The singers of the Family Folk Machine answer the call to Join Together with the band. Pete Townsend’s lyrics in this familiar song emphasize that we’re joining together even though we’re all different: we don’t move in any particular direction, we don’t eat or wear the same things—“there’s a million ways to laugh, and every one’s a path.” “It’s the biggest band you’ll find; it’s as deep as it is wide.” Join us by singing along.

The FFM kids sing Fred Rogers’s beloved Won’t You Be My Neighbor? with the FFM ukulele ensemble, and they follow it up with the original song Say Hello. Say Hello was first written by students at Prairie Green School, where FFM Associate Director Nicole Upchurch teaches and will soon be co-director. Say Hello is a beautiful song about openness to the new things, places, and people we encounter in life. Nicole brought the song to the FFM kids, and they wrote two additional verses based on their own experiences and ideas.

One of our three-generation FFM families presents the Woody Guthrie song Howjadoo. It’s a joyful tune about the benefits of being friendly to the people we come across in our daily lives. There’s an instrumental break in this song during which you’re invited to shake hands with the people around you.

Ruth Pelham’s song Turning of the World expresses a resolve to improve the world we live in. “Let us sing this song for the turning of the world, that we may turn as one. With every voice, with every song, we will move this world along; and our lives will feel the echoes of our turning.” Other verses simply substitute another action for turning: healing, dreaming, loving. Join in and sing along!

Anywhere is an uplifting song by the Seattle-based, Kenyan-born singer-songwriter Naomi Wachira. The song points us toward the things all humans have in common: “We breathe the same air, we bask in the same sun, we sleep under the same moon. And the rain that falls on the ground, it’s the same, anywhere you go. And even though we live in different parts of the world, we all began the same way. And even though we believe in different things, we’re somehow the same.” On her website, Wachira writes, “I know we are certainly living in dark times, but I hope that we will all find the courage to be light in whatever way we’ve been gifted… that we will seek to understand those who are different from us and find ways to both acknowledge and celebrate our differences and similarities.”

Lady of the Harbor considers one of our most potent national symbols, the Statue of Liberty, and the distance between the ideals she represents and our country’s approach to immigrants and refugees. “Will the dream survive the strain? Shine on, Lady of the Harbor.”

De Colores is the oldest song on today’s program, commonly sung throughout the Americas since perhaps the 16th century, with a melody that probably came over from Spain. In the twentieth century it was a favorite song of the United Farm Workers for rallies and meetings. The song depicts the coming of spring to the countryside and the beautiful colors of the plants and birds. It celebrates the beauty of diversity and the bonds of affection between generations, as in the second verse we hear in turn from the roosters, the hens, and the little chicks.

You might know the song Yes We Can Can as the Pointer Sisters’ 1973 hit. Composer Allen Toussaint is from New Orleans, and his recorded version of the song appeared on a 2005 Hurricane Katrina benefit album. From an inspiring 2015 obituary for Toussaint, here is Jack Hamilton writing for Slate: “A song about changing the world has never sounded so intimate, so inviting, so irrefutable.” It is a “politically upright, irrepressibly exuberant American song.” The song features “one of the greatest choruses ever written: ‘Oh yes we can I know we can can yes we can can why can’t we if we want to yes we can can,’ followed by ‘oh yes we can I know we can can yes we can great gosh almighty yes we can I know we can can.’ On the page those words look like Gertrude Stein scribbling an inspirational poster; in the mouth of a great singer they’re nothing short of magical, sliding and skipping in between beats, dancing on lips and tongue, language reimagined as groove.” Give it a try and sing it with us.

City High ninth-graders Alice Boerner and Callista Robertson wrote Silence without Sound last fall in an FFM songwriting class with Associate Director Gayla Drake. The song expresses the idea of using our voices to bring our thoughts to life. The older FFM kids support Alice and Callista in singing the verses to highlight the theme of coming of age and learning to speak out.

The Wailin’ Jennys song One Voice is a beautiful encapsulation of the idea that a group of singers is a model for community. There is one voice, there are two, there are three voices, and then there are all of us, and that is still one voice. “One people, one voice, a song for every one of us.” How do we build that community? “Love, and the will to trust.” We are very pleased to feature our first-ever FFM intergenerational cello choir in the arrangement of this song.

Let’s Work Together is a fun 1970 hit blues tune by Wilbert Harrison, later recorded by Canned Heat. The lyrics encourage us to stick together when things get hard or go wrong. “Make someone happy, make someone smile; let’s all work together and make life worthwhile.”

The British band Field Music released Count It Up in 2018. With its stark delivery and retro-pop style, the song challenges us to think about the advantages we’ve had in our lives to propel us to use our power to make things better for other people. For many of us, the lyrics hit us where we live: “If you can go through day to day without the fear of violence, count that up. If your body makes some kind of sense to you, count that up. If you can turn on the tap and your kids can drink the water, count that up. And use the breath you have left to say something that matters.” Or sing something that matters, I’d add.

Knockin’ on Your Screen Door was on John Prine’s 2018 release, Tree of Forgiveness. What is our responsibility to our neighbors who don’t have any “loose change just hangin’ around” and could use some help? “I’m thinking it’s your business, but you don’t got to answer; I’m knockin’ on your screen door in the summertime.”

Sly and the Family Stone’s Everybody Is a Star celebrates the light we share with each other. “Everybody is a star—I can feel it when you shine on me. I love you for who you are, not for who you think you need to be. Everybody is a star, one big circle going ‘round and ‘round.” Shine, shine, shine. The Machine is proud to feature our first-ever horn section on this tune.

We end the concert with the John Lennon classic Instant Karma. In his light-hearted way, Lennon prods us to think of ourselves as part of the wide human community. “What in the world are you thinking of, laughing in the face of love? You’d better get yourself together, darlin’, join the human race. Why in the world are we here? Surely not to live in pain and fear.” We need your voice with us at the end: Well, we all shine on, like the moon, and the stars and the sun.