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  • Renee Collins Cobb

From The UK School of Music, Shakertown & Beyond: How College Connections Reach Far Into The Future

Written By Renee Collins-Cobb, M.Ed. and Warren Cobb

Scene from the Documentary Film "To Bow & Be Simple"​ KET Special in 1979

In 1979, a historical landmark re-enactment of an original Shaker Worship Service was performed at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, KY by the University of Kentucky Choristers. Under the direction of UK Professor Sara Holroyd and arranged by the late renowned recording artist and choral composer Salli Terri, this project was filmed to be broadcast on the local Kentucky Educational Television station. It originally aired in 1980 and ran repeatedly throughout the early 80’s. The Shaker Worship Service continued to be performed live at Pleasant Hill each year under the direction of Ms. Holroyd until her retirement in 1987.

The University of Kentucky Choristers Perform Salli Terri's "A Shaker Worship Service" 1979

This then new creation in 1979 was rehearsed and fleshed out in Classroom 17 in the “old” Fine Arts Building at UK. A room Ms. Holroyd’s students have since lovingly described as being holy, a sanctuary, even having had a song titled in its honor.

The impact of this short film and these seminal performances spread over the next 35 years beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. Salli Terri’s daughter, Jennifer Biggs Walton commented, ‘The first thing I thought after recently seeing this film was how wholeheartedly exuberant the men and women seemed to be. They are so removed from mainstream life but so free of the world’s focus on negativity. ‘Tis the gift to be simple.”

Jennifer's father, internationally known composer John Biggs, added “I indeed watched the film with great interest and was really impressed by the choreography, sincerity of the performance, and the fact they memorized the entire score. It’s a very moving performance and I’m really happy to have it in my collection now.”

A grant from the Kentucky Humanities Council provided funding for the film and taping. These uplifting services were seen by thousands of people from all over the globe who came to visit Shaker Village for its historical significance, including then newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Beyond that, the performers themselves were deeply affected by the experiences, carrying forward and sharing intimate memories with others to this very day.

Dr. Sara Holroyd Describes How "A Shaker Worship Service" Was Re-Created

This is evidenced by a Facebook page created in 2014 titled “UK Chorister Shakertown Memories” - an open group associated with or who performed in the Shaker Worship Services. The original film is there with pictures, music, programs but more interesting than that, is the continued influx of heartfelt poetic accounts and memories of that experience expressed by the members themselves. Many still maintain contact and relationships with each other. All were fueled to succeed in life by the very essence of the Shakertown performances and the powerful life altering inspirational guidance of Ms. Holroyd herself.

That is the quintessential power of relationship building at the University of Kentucky. The importance of which can last for many years beyond the classroom and impact lives well into the future. The Salli Terri family has been impacted. Ms. Terri passed away in 1996. In 1979, and her then two young daughters and husband remembered that a film was made but seeing it again at this point in their own lives proved to be most meaningful. They have all responded with deep gratitude and appreciation feeling this group breathes life back into Terri’s music.

Many student success stories and life updates continue to pour in from those who are high school and university choral directors, Metropolitan Opera singers, Music Department Heads, three former Miss Kentucky winners, clergy, professional musicians, medical and legal professionals, and several Ph.D.’s -- all students of Ms. Holroyd and all attributing success in their professions to her dedication, unconditional love, support and musical discipline she demonstrated during their education at UK.

The Facebook page also serves as a memorial for the families of the Shaker performers who have since passed away—Tim Marinaro, Lori Stevens Diesman, Joe Barnett, (who did the original choreography for the film) and Gina Scaggs Epifano. The Gina Scaggs Epifano Memorial Scholarship was presented each year to an aspiring vocal student at the NATS (National Association of Teaching of Singers) competition.

Ms. Holroyd became Dr. Holroyd in 2018 when an honorary doctoral degree was given to her by the University of Kentucky after our non-profit organization Room 17 Productions put forth a nomination for this honor. What a joy it has been to help reunite her with so many students and people whom she affected so positively and who love her so dearly. Upon retiring in 1987, she left an entire collection of papers, photographs, letters and memories from her 26 years of teaching at UK. It can be viewed in the Special Collections Department of the Margaret I King Library at the University. It is well worth the trip. And since then, an oral history project was started in her name at the UK Nunn Center for Oral History.

Sara Holroyd Becomes "Dr." Sara Holroyd in 2018 awarded a UK honorary doctoral degree

If you are considering a school to attend, consider the rich heritage of the University of Kentucky College of Fine Arts --where lives cross paths and remain connected far into the future as it has for the Shaker Worship Service performers from 1979. They are shining examples of what education and dedication are all about at The University of Kentucky School of Music in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Sara Holroyd Singers Perform Salli Terri's "A Shaker Worship Service at Shaker Village September 29, 2018 Under the Direction of Dr. Sara Holroyd's Former Student Richard Burns.

Renee and Warren Cobb are the Co-Presidents/Owners of Collins Consulting Group, Listen Locally, LLC and Co-Executive Director of Room 17 Productions, a nonprofit organization that promotes music education. Renee is the former host of Red Barn Radio and radio shows titled "Overtones" and “Gray Matters” - a show about unconscious bias” which airs weekly on WLXU, Lexington Community Radio. Warren is the former Assistant Producer and Talent Manager for Red Barn Radio and now serves as the Executive Producer for "Overtones LIVE from Austin City". They are also the project managers for The Sara Holroyd Oral History Project, The History of the UK Cheerleaders Project, The Greg Austin Story and I Am Diversity at the University of Kentucky Louie B Nunn Center for Oral History. Renee has also served many years in the organizational effectiveness, diversity/inclusion and human resource development fields. She serves as an executive coach, keynote speaker, organizational consultant, facilitator of change and team development coach.

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