Story Circle Sunday, September 25

This column ran in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

The public is invited to participate in an afternoon of Story Circles with the Family Folk Machine on Sunday, September 25, at 3:00 p.m. at the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center. The story circles are part of the Folk Machine’s 2016–17 project, Wasn’t That a Time?, supported by a grant from the Iowa Arts Council.

The story circle is a technique for gathering stories, themes, and ideas from a group. In 2014, the Iowa City band The Awful Purdies held story circles with farmers, food workers, and other community members to learn about people’s experiences with food. They took the stories they gathered and created songs for the musical play “All Recipes Are Home,” which they performed with Working Group Theatre. A few weeks ago, the Awful Purdies did a performance presentation for the Family Folk Machine to share their experiences with story circles to help us prepare to lead some of our own.

Our purpose in gathering community stories is to use them as seeds for songwriting. In January and February, as part of the Wasn’t That a Time? project, the Awful Purdies will lead a series of songwriting workshops with the FFM. Listening to stories from our friends and neighbors will give us material to work with when we begin the songwriting process.
On September 25, we will do a little writing and a little sharing in our story circles. Some of our questions and prompts will be asking about life experiences, positive and negative, that have directed our paths. Some of our questions have to do with the role of music in our lives. The event is free and open to the public of all ages (kids most definitely included). After our time of story circle sharing, we’ll linger over refreshments.

Aside from the socially oriented story circles, we will also be gathering stories in written form. This fall, we plan to use boxes stationed around the Senior Center where people can submit written stories or answers to some of our questions. Soon we will have a website for Wasn’t That a Time? with a process for submitting typed stories and ideas. We will be transcribing some of the story circle results for publication on our website along with some of the written responses we receive.

We’re dreaming of writing songs in January and February, but at the same time the Family Folk Machine is working up a fun program of songs for our concerts this fall. We’ll perform “Rise Up and Sing! A Celebration of Community Singing” on November 13, 3 p.m. at the Senior Center, and on November 20, 3 p.m. in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol. Our program this fall features songs from the new group-singing book, “Rise Again,” a follow-up to the classic “Rise Up Singing.” We’re working on a nice variety of songs, from Sesame Street to Emmylou Harris to Harry Belafonte to Jean Ritchie. Save the dates!

For more information about the Family Folk Machine or Wasn’t That a Time?, please send an e-mail to