The Way Forth

World Premiere – Sat. Feb. 23rd, 2019 with the Louisville Orchestra

Big Ears Festival, Knoxville TN –  Thurs. March 21st, 2019



Voice: Timbre Cierpke, Joan Shelley  |  SATB Choir: SONUS  |  Narrator: Stephen Webber

Piano: Rachel Grimes  |  Harp: Timbre Cierpke  |  Guitar: Nathan Salsburg  |  Banjo: Sean Johnson

Percussion: Sean Johnson, Jecorey Arthur  |  Violin: Scott Moore, Erica Pisaturo, Rob Simonds

Viola: Laura De St. Croix, Evan Vicic  |  Cello: Charlie Patton, Cecilia Huerta-Lauf  |  Bass:  Aaron May

Spoken word: Jecorey Arthur, Martha Neal Cooke, Rachel Grimes, Joe Manning,

Nathan Salsburg, Joan Shelley, Doris Smith, Bettie Wheeler


Recorded by Anne Gauthier at The Kentucky Center and La La Land, Louisville, KY

and at Eastwood Christian Church, Nashville, TN

Mixed by Chris Greenwell and Rachel Grimes at Downtown Recording

Length: 65 minutes  |  Produced with support from The Kentucky Center, Kentucky Foundation for Women, The Puffin Foundation, Owsley Brown Presents, Lueboe Press, Kriech-Higdon Photography, and individual donors

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 people, 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.

An experimental film created in collaboration with filmmaker Catharine Axley  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.

Watch “The Way Forth:  Behind the Scenes” videos HERE

We are honored to partner with the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts as our fiscal sponsor for The Way Forth. Kentucky Center is a 501c3 non-profit organization, allowing for tax-deductible contributions to support the creation and recording of The Way Forth, as well as shooting and editing of the film. Donations to this project can be made below, or by contacting Carissa Stolting (

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 Pauline

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


A woman's look back on her 85 years of life in central KY in the 1800s.

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

Fontaine Ferry

A dream-like, kaleidoscopic fun house and musical review with snippets of yesteryear’s music traditions specifically inspired by songs from around Kentucky.

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


1840: A woman recounts 80 years of living in slavery, and the horrible absurdity of being asked to participate in a celebration of the settlement of Fort Boonesborough.

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 colonial invasion and 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.


Looking back on her Depression-era childhood, Sara Katherine Simpson Jones recalls her life's arc in Lincoln County, KY.

Her essential family motto - And with the roots of the past, we shall shake the branches of the future

A New Land

A hopeful wish for redemption and for the future

We are honored to partner with the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts as our fiscal sponsor for The Way Forth. Kentucky Center is a 501c3 non-profit organization, allowing for tax-deductible contributions to support the creation and recording of The Way Forth, as well as shooting and editing of the film. Donations to this project can be made below, or by contacting Carissa Stolting (