Sara Holroyd is a retired music educator who had her humble beginnings in the segregated city of Selma, Alabama during the 1940s. After working her way through Peabody School of Music, she went back to Alabama to become a high school choir and band director, and after successful pursuit of her graduate work at Columbia University’s Teachers College and Indiana University. Sara went on to become one of a handful of female choral conductors at the collegiate level as the Director of Choral Activities at the University of Kentucky after overcoming a well publicized tenure challenge with the University in the 1960’s when women in academia struggled to achieve the professional status most commonly obtained by men.
After this challenge, Sara was named A UK “Great Teacher” presented by the UK Alumni along with a long string of other prestigious awards and honors at the University. During this time, Sara achieved several career milestones, most notably working with Robert Shaw on four different occasions as well as with Donald Neuen, Fred Waring, Salli Terri, Robert DeCormier and Hugh Ross.
In 1977, Sara who was now the Director of Choral Activities, in an effort to recruit the best of Kentucky high school choral talent to the UK masterminded a television production of her beloved and always well received Christmas concerts. “A Gift Of Music”, a performance combining all three of her choral groups and the University of Kentucky Orchestra was filmed at UK’s Memorial Hall and aired statewide on WLEX and KET.
In 1979, a landmark film was made at Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, KY which featured Sara’s University of Kentucky Choristers performing a re-enactment of Salli Terri’s “A Shaker Worship Service” which aired on KET many times in the 1980’s. Soon after filming, “The Music of The Shakers” LP was recorded in 1981 and captured the sounds of Shaker music and showcased the incredible vocal talent that further catapulted Sara’s amazing gift at choral conducting and production to a national and now global audience.
After retiring from the University of Kentucky, chasing a long desired career goal of working in the medical field, Sara immediately enrolled in nursing school at age 62 and obtaining her degree at age 65 and working as an ER nurse well into her 70s which empowered her to combine both of her skillsets in music and medicine to comfort, calm and heal patients and families during times of great personal stress.
Room 17 was the exact location in the UK Fine Arts Building where, for almost 30 years Sara taught, inspired and changed the lives of thousands of students who studied music and voice under the direction of her baton. This sanctuary of music education proved to be the springboard that launched many future successful professional careers in not only music, but in a variety of fields including law, medicine, communications, pastoral, K-12 education, piano pedagogy, information technology, sports broadcasting, psychology, higher education, military services, art, theater, real estate, authors, songwriters, publishing, opera, and recording artists.
Many of these former students, now known as “Room 17 Productions” since their career was “produced” in “Room 17” reunited on September 26, 2015 to perform once more for their beloved 91 year old professor in a concert honoring her role in their professional and personal lives. Each alumni credits her in some way for helping fuel the desire to succeed and be the best in their chosen profession. We have filmed several of Sara’s students telling of the tremendous impact she had on their lives and careers.
Famed Kentucky writer Jesse Stuart once said “I am firm in my belief that a teacher lives on and on through his students. Good teaching is forever and the teacher is immortal.”
Decades after her students have graduated, these alumni continue to sing the praises of the community to which they belonged and the director that inspired them to greatness. These are just a few of the outcomes:
• Extensive research into the University of Kentucky Sara Holroyd Special Collections Archives
• Preservation of performances that exist on aging films, cassettes and reel-to-reel through the process of digitization.
• Enthusiastic engagement on social media to rally support
• Heartfelt messages to Sara Holroyd from her students and colleagues
• The formation of “The Sara Holroyd Singers” who perform at local festivals and gatherings
We would like to thank our partners, The Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History and the University of Kentucky Libraries for helping us tell the world this wonderful, inspiring story.