The Way Forth

Alto Voice | SATB Choir | Narrator
Piano |  Guitar | Banjo |  Violin | Cello
Bass | String Section
Length:  75 minutes

From the Wilderness Trace to the battlefield, from a dastardly land deal to building a fort, from indentured servitude to the meadowlands, from a one room schoolhouse to the university, from birth to love to rape to murder, and back around to a ham breakfast with a patriotic parade:  What did these women see and feel?  What was in their hearts and dreams?  Inspired by a treasure trove of family photos, documents, and letters, The Way Forth is a folk opera and film that weaves through voices of generations of Kentucky women from 1775 to today.

Amidst familiar stories of hard-working, loving families, a quieter theme emerges:  the systematic prohibition of the rights of women, indigenous peoples, enslaved and subsequently freed African-Americans, for the deliberate purpose of amassing wealth and the exploitation of resources. With an alto lead, piano, strings, spoken word, and chorus, these songs recall slavery, dominion, controversy, and emotional turmoil laced with an unquenchable desire for independence. The lyrics explore a reckoning with these conflicting emotions, both from the point of view of the women of the past, and the present day witness.

The Way Forth honors the emotional legacy of the silenced, the feminine, the holistic, the beauty in the quotidian of daily life, and the eternal grace and redemption of time, as symbolized by the great Dix and Kentucky Rivers. The work reorients audiences from the one-directional lens of the capitalist patriarchy, and asks them to consider the lives, both past and present, that strive for a culture of equality.

A 75-minute experimental film created in collaboration with filmmaker Catharine Axley and support from Owsley Brown Presents will accompany the musical work for use in live performance.  The film features historic locations and landscapes and weaves together heirloom photographs and intimate close-ups of contemporary Kentuckians.

Got Ahold of Me

Possessed by painful, unresolved emotions from another time and place, with a plea to the aggressors to stop the fighting and begin to love

Postcard from Paulina

Going back in time - a postcard written by Paulina Lackey, the sister of my great-great- grandmother, to her niece Pauline Grimes - a snapshot of the pace and tone of life in 1888

Sisterhood of Man

A refrain from the voices of women of Kentucky - of the frontier, of the Cherokee Nation, and of today - demanding freedom from the grip of domination

Red House School

My maternal grandmother Margaret Ruth Baldwin Leedy began her education in a rural one room school house, and later taught in Madison, Harlan, and Lincoln Counties. She completed her education in stages, while working and raising a family. This text is excerpted from a writing assignment from Eastern KY University in 1964 when she finally returned to complete her Bachelor’s degree.

The Hysterical Society

A romp through the names of people and places that play a part in the storyline: family members, slaves of those family members, places of origin and of settlement, and the waters that flow through the land. The chorus is the old time fiddle tune “Cumberland Gap”. The title refers to how my paternal grandmother Dorothy Susan Newland Grimes used to jokingly refer to the Lincoln County Historical Society, of which she was a member and President.

Nowhere on Earth

A personal account of a recent drive-by visit to the beautiful place where my father was born in Preachersville, Lincoln County

There Is No Other

A woman recalls a life-long marriage, through the phases of the young, middle, and later years

The Spells

The narrator enters and tells of an Aunt’s struggles with the memory of a traumatic episode

For So Long

A sentiment of the current generation on the emotional legacy of the patriarchy and its manifestation in their family

Dix River Doxology

An ode to the Dix River in central Kentucky, a major tributary to the Kentucky River, with a melody from the traditional Christian hymn of praise known as the Doxology

Bill of Sale

John Newland, my 4th great-grandfather, was the grandson of a German immigrant. John's grandfather, Johann, came to Virginia as an indentured servant in 1734 and served four years as a cordwainer. John's father, Abraham, having benefited from a Revolutionary War land grant in Madison County, became wealthy enough to pass on land to his sons, including John, who in 1824 purchased a woman, Susan, and her three children: Ann, Jane, and Henson for $775. As was the common, hideous practice, slaves had no legal last name and therefore very little written history or record exists. This lament grieves this horrible truth from our past with a promise of "No more".

End of Dominion

A dive into the arc of the white settlement of Kentucky, from the perspective of a modern-day male narrator, a bombastic orator, a preacher, a letter from a distant nephew, a man and a woman observer. A chorus outlines the cycle of the rise and fall of the practice of dominion over other people, animals, and the land: Fortitude, servitude, plenitude, gratitude - Certitude, pulchritude, rectitude, decrepitude. Contains excerpts from family papers, wills, letters, memorabilia, newspaper clippings, and historical events including the establishment of Fort Boonesborough, the Gold Rush of 1849, the Civil War, Christian evangelism, and an unsolved murder.

A New Land

A hopeful wish for today and for the future of our state, inspired by the Simpson/Hayes family motto by Sara Katherine Simpson Jones:

And with the roots of the past, we shall shake the branches of the future