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A Community Sings
First Aired August 1, 2011

The spirit and energy of community music is captured in this half-hour musical documentary. Narrated by singer/songwriter Jen Sygit and recorded at Michigan festivals and community sings in 2010 and 2011.

WATCH IT at video.wkar.org

Singing as Part of Daily Life

For many people, singing is done with children, in choir or school, and perhaps at birthday parties. It seems as though few incorporate singing into their daily lives. The days when groups of people got together simply to sing now seem a distant memory.

But in East Lansing, Michigan, an enthusiastic community of people who love to sing gathers at monthly gatherings where they celebrate music by joining in song. This effort culminates in a Mid-Winter Singing Festival during which leading folk musicians who serve as song leaders guide people from all walks of life through a variety of musical styles ranging from folk and spirituals to Broadway hits and the Great American Songbook.

“The Reality Is That People Love to Sing”

"The core of folk music is community and one way you can feel and receive community is by hearing each other sing," says Sally Potter, founder of the festival, which originated in 2003. "I live in this community and it's a stunning folk community -- especially for its size. I thought "why don't we just have a weekend where everyone just shows up and sings just for fun.

"The reality is that people love to sing. It's as basic and primal as you can get," says festival organizer Bob Blackman, who is also a folk historian and former host of WKAR’s “The Folk Tradition.” "It's something people have been doing since the dawn of time."

The Mid-Winter Singing Festival was born of the belief that folk music is core participation. "The folk music community in East Lansing is very rich, strong, cooperative and very loving," says participant Carolyn White.“

It Gives You an Idea What World Peace Looks Like.”

The mid-Michigan community was an ideal spot to launch the festival. Potter describes the folk music scene in the region as being “remarkable,” with great performers and singers of different styles who are generous and not competitive.

Indeed, folk is heard regularly in the area, with weekly concerts at venues like the Ten Pound Fiddle, the annual Great Lakes Folk Festival and even on television as part of WKAR's BackStage Pass series. Elderly Instruments, located in Lansing, is a world-renowned music store specializing in folk music and instruments.

"Part of the excitement of the singing festival is people remembering what it feels like to sing." says Blackman. "Most people just don't sing as part of everyday life anymore."

Viewers will not only learn about the festival, but see it in action as song leaders, including nationally recognized folk musicians Joel Mabus and Susan Werner, among others, lead participants through a variety of music and workshops. The idea of the festival is to showcase the songs. "My job is to present the songs to the people and let them sing," says Mabus, who accompanies them on his guitar. "I help them along through the rough spots. It's really about the song being sun by everybody."

Or, to put it in the words of participant Margaret Kingsbury, "It gives you an idea of what world peace might look like."

A Community Sings brings warmth, passion and grass-roots spirit to the screen – and it serves it up with a song and a smile.

A Community Sings is produced by WKAR’s Susi Elkins and Mike Mihalus and produced by WKAR. In addition to Potter, Mabus and Werner, additional song leaders featured in the program include Mark Dvorak, Kim Harris, Reggie Harris, and Frank Youngman and choir director Rachel Alexander. The program was recorded at East Lansing’s Hannah Community Center and Unitarian Universalist Church.

WKAR is part of Michigan State University Broadcasting Services, a division of MSU Communication Arts & Sciences. It includes WKAR-TV, WKAR Radio, WKAR.org, Radio Reading Service, WKAR Ready To Learn, Interactive Video Services and WKAR Station Enterprises.