The East Lansing folk scene has been robust since the Ten
Pound Fiddle concert series booked its first show in 1975 on Michigan
State University’s campus.
The Fiddle scene has evolved into a well-managed
grassroots network made up of locals that not only host the shows, but
promote them and sometimes even perform in them. At times, the folkies
and their devoted audience seem to be one and the same.
While the Ten Pound Fiddle does book world-class performers, it also hosts contra dances —
a form of square dancing — that are open to the public, and “community
sings” that invite people of any skill level to sing songs as a group.
The frequent singing events are held locally at the
Unitarian Universalist Church and annually at the Hannah Community
Center for the Mid-Winter Singing Festival, which packs the house with
hundreds of people ready to tackle the Great American Songbook, folk
standards and spirituals.
“A Community Sings,” a 30-minute documentary produced by
WKAR-TV, chronicles this close-knit group of music lovers who may not be
ready for the stage but enjoy belting out songs.
Cut from the same cloth as the Ten Pound Fiddle, this spinoff event is meant to revive the lost art of communal singing.
The film premieres Monday on “WKAR World” and is scheduled to be repeated several times throughout August.
It was filmed in 2010 and 2011 and is narrated by area singer/songwriter Jen Sygit.
It also features appearances by folk scene veterans Sally Potter and Bob Blackman, two organizers of these singing events.
While the film shows how a “song leader” keeps the tempo
from the stage (one featured in the film is Michigan folk fixture Joel
Mabus), the events are all about the community members who show up and
sing for the fun of it, with strangers, friends and some seasoned
While there is ample footage of locals singing, the bits
of interviews with organizers and community singers spliced throughout
are what really tell the story of the engaging traditional folk movement
in East Lansing.
“These folks love to sing,” Potter says in the film. “Some are incredible singers, some aren’t, and it doesn’t matter.
“If you love to sing, we give you the lyrics, we pick the key, we start it up and everybody sings.”
Another telling part of the film comes when Blackman, the
former host of the “Folk Tradition” radio show on WKAR-FM, says what he
feels is the most exciting aspect of these jubilant events.
“To be a part of this huge wall of sound
and feel this connection with all the people around you making this
sound together — that sense of forming a community for a few hours in
this room with 500 other people is an incredibly powerful experience,”
Blackman explains. “I think that’s where a lot of the emotion comes
'A Community Sings'
Premiere at 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1, on WKAR-TV. The film repeats at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3, 10:30 p.m. Aug. 14; 11:30 p.m. Aug. 20; 9:30 p.m. Aug. 27; 6 p.m. Aug. 28; 11:30 p.m.