I Am a Spinner: Lyn Ellen Burkett

Music Professor

Spin Off Editorial Staff Apr 10, 2020 - 3 min read

I Am a Spinner: Lyn Ellen Burkett Primary Image

Above left: Lyn Ellen Burkett spinning at home on the front porch. Photo by Bryan Burkett. Above right: Performing with saxophonist Ian Jeffress at Coulter Recital Hall, Western Carolina University. Photo by Eldred Spell.

Tell us about your day job.
I teach music at Western Carolina University. I work with the sophomores and help them develop skills to read, hear, play, and sing different kinds of harmonies, melodies, and rhythms. Our graduates go on to become music teachers, performers, recording engineers, and music industry professionals. I teach several classes each semester, organize concerts, and give scholarly presentations at conferences. I also perform; I’m a pianist. Additionally, I’m organist and choir director at Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Cashiers, North Carolina.

How did you become a spinner?
Nearly 15 years ago, when I was living in northern New York, I attended a spinning demonstration sponsored by a local arts organization. A few months later, I took a drop spindle class; it was very basic, but I was hooked! The next summer, I played the organ at six weddings, and I saved the money I earned to buy a wheel, a Kromski Minstrel, which I love.

How does spinning fit into the rest of your life?
When I get busy with school and church, I can usually find 15 minutes a day to spin. I set the kitchen timer and, for just a little while, clear my mind of everything but the colors and textures running through my hands. It’s very soothing.

What is your favorite thing about spinning?
I love the sense of community I’ve found with other spinners. In our very small town, we have a group that meets every few weeks to spin together. Last March, we visited a nearby farm that had just shorn Jacob ewes, and we each bought a fleece. Before long, we’ll be comparing the knitted and woven items we’ve created from the wool we bought.

Do your job and your fiber hobbies ever overlap?
I recently finished teaching a course on the history of country music and was reminded of the important contributions women continue to make to Appalachian culture, in music as well as in the fiber arts. Both areas involve developing the discipline to cultivate specialized skill sets whether for spinning, dyeing, singing, or banjo playing.

In a completely different context, last fall, I accompanied a voice student who sang Franz Schubert’s song “Gretchen am Spinnrade” (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel). The piano in that song imitates the whirring of a spinning wheel. The student and I spent some time pondering the relationship between the tempo of the music and the speed at which a spinning wheel turns. That performance was especially meaningful.

This article originally was published in the Winter 2020 issue of Spin Off.