“I always say joy is the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.” ~ Br. David Steindl-Rast
Christmas is just around the corner. So, let’s deck the halls, or the fence as the case may be, and be of good cheer as we stuff our gullets with sweets, watch our waistlines grow beyond all reckoning, and tryptophan our way into the new year. Who’s with me?
“Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go.” ~ TinyBuddha
The Sara Holroyd Singers sang the bulk of yesterday’s performance at a huge black barn on a ridge at Shakertown. I had never been to that part of the property before. The view was incredible, as you can see, and the vibe for music was outstanding. They ought to do more music there, and I ought to do more photos, especially during a thunderstorm. I bet it’s spectacular! It was pretty spectacular on a hot October day for sure.
“What was true yesterday may not be true today. Be. Here. Now. Grow, change, evolve.”
~ Timber Hawkeye
I had the most inspiring day with the soulful voices of the Sara Holroyd Singers (SHS). You might recall meeting Sara back in August. I said then that she had been a beloved choral prof at UK, and here’s a little proof of that. SHS was started by the stunningly gracious Reneé Collins, and features other alumni like her who studied under Sara. I highly recommend checking out their website because Reneé and her partner, Warren Cobb; an equally awesome dude, have done a fantastic job pulling together interview and performance videos of Sara and the group.
Today, as part of a Gathering of Songfarmer’s at Shakertown, SHS sang a selection of Shaker Worship songs that they first sang with Sara many years ago. I’m told they also danced the Shaker dances back then, but they declined to do so today. Don’t let that “many years ago” fool you, however. As you can see above, they’ve still got a lot of get up and go even without the dance routine. Vocally, I can’t imagine that they were any better then than they were today. It was as if the angels sang.
I can’t say enough great things about Reneé (below). Not only has she put together the Sara Holroyd Singers (A Room 17 Production), she also spearheads the Sara Holroyd Oral History Project. Her day job is consulting for The Office of Institutional Diversity at UK. I’ve taken her Unconscious Bias workshop, and I can honestly say it was the most informative workshop I’ve ever attended. But that’s not at all surprising given how gifted, outgoing, and warm-hearted she is. Reneé embodies the hopeful, joyous spirit Sara imparted to all her students, and it shines bright as the sun.
I got to make a few new friends today as well, like fellow photog Randy (who’s last name I can’t remember to save my life). His wife played the part of Mother Ann, and he does photography mostly as a hobby. Randy and I had a great talk about gear in between sets, and he really came to the rescue when the group decided they wanted a photo on the famous Shaker staircase after flash mobbing dining guests with a song. Naturally, I didn’t have my flash (because I rarely do). Thankfully Randy had his. So this super sweet guy saved the day, or at least that shot. I met many kind hearts like Randy’s today. They gave me a wonderful few hours filled with exquisite singing that the Shakers themselves would have adored. I couldn’t ask for a better day in better company.
“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” ~ Scott Hamilton
I received an incredible compliment today from a woman I’ve never met. Kate, a childhood friend of Kathy Robinson, saw the post about Kathy from last Saturday, and then took a look at my website. She was moved by the Sacred Spaces photos. She said such wonderful things about them, and me. Yesterday I was surrounded by the spirit of the Shakers. Not a week ago it was the spirit of Zen Buddhists. The week before that I was at Cane Ridge. In all three places I was able to add to the series, searching for images that move me deeply. This staircase in the Center Dwelling House at Shakertown appears to lead no where, or as Stacy remarked, it looks like it belongs in the Winchester House. It actually leads on to the roof. There’s a small sign by the window that says it’s the highest point on Pleasant Hill, but it’s also the highest point in Mercer County. It provides a beautiful view of the meeting house where the Shakers would congregate and worship together. From the bottom of the stairs all you see is heaven.
“You will never have this day again so make it count.” ~ Unknown
I took the day off to spend it with Pam Thurman and Barb Plested. In town for a training session, they tacked on a few vacation days starting today. Stacy Yelton and I met them at Lexington Diner for breakfast, then took them to Shakertown before the big rain settled it. Despite the overcast, it made for a gorgeous sky. I learned a lot of things about the Shakers I didn’t know before today. We had lunch in the Trustees House, drove back to Lexington to drop-off Stacy, then made our way to Wallace Station near Midway in time for dinner. We came back by way of beautiful Pisgah Pike, passing some of the largest thoroughbred horse farms in the nation. Three restaurants, four counties, multiple (and quite timely) conversations of great importance, and one day for which I will always be grateful.
“Focus on the powerful, euphoric, magical, synchronistic, beautiful parts of life, and the universe will keep giving them to you.” ~ Unknown
I’ll just leave these here. Can you tell i had a good time at Shakertown Saturday? It was such a beautiful, inspired day. This center photo for me sums up the peacefulness this place must have offered its residents. Simple. Beautiful. Peaceful.
I don’t know the origin of the transparency in the window, but I believe it’s an image of the Central Dwelling (which I was in when I took this). Since this room housed the Thomas Merton exhibit, perhaps it was one of his images, though I don’t know the significance of putting it in the window. In any case, it made for an interesting image so, here ya go. Enjoy!
“Life is a series of tiny little miracles. Notice them.” ~ Unknown
Those Shakers loved symmetry, didn’t they? Stacy and I were talking more about Shakers today when she told me the northern Shakers disapproved of their Kentucky brethren. The houses were to be made of wood. Owing to a lack of lumber on the frontier, the Kentucky Shakers instead used brick and stone which were readily available. I feel a three little pigs story coming on.
Their architecture, though simple, was simply beautiful inside and out. There is something to be said for symmetry in this work. It draws you in and holds your attention. It’s like that in person, too, not just in the photographs.
I feel like I’ve got a renewed sense of who the Shakers were; a renewed place in my heart for what they achieved, what they were trying to do with their lives collectively. Their northern brethren accused them of eating too richly (too much butter they said), and frowned on their having trees, for the northern sect didn’t need the shade from the southern sun as the Pleasant Hill gang did. Seems to me a lot of life’s joys, not the extravagant things but just the simple things that have been given to us to enjoy like trees, is a bit stupid, for lack of a better word. Who in their right mind would be offended by a beautiful shade tree or a pone of cornbread slathered in homemade butter? Maybe my renewed love of the Shakers isn’t with the Shakers on the whole so much as for our Kentucky Shakers. The ones who ate butter, and rested under shade trees, and took in slaves that converted and shared with them the same as with each other. Maybe our Shakers were a little more compassionate, a little more thoughtful, a little more sane.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” ~ Aristotle
One thing Shakers are known for, besides their convulsive dancing, is their expert craftsmanship. They took great care in building home and hearth. Their style is simple in all things save for, perhaps, this pair of staircases in the Trustees House. Unlike the other straight staircases, this pair delicately spiral three floors. I admire the beauty in their simple symmetrical design; elegant turns toward heaven. I must say, those Shakers got a lot of things right.