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Book Review


Millennial Praises: A Shaker Hymnal

Edited by Christian Goodwillie and
Jane F. Crosthwaite
University of Massachusetts Press
2009, xiii, 298 pages


This scholarly edition presents for the first time the words and music to most of the hymns originally published in the first Shaker hymnal of 1812-13.

Of the one hundred and forty (140) hymn texts in the original hymnal, there are one hundred and twenty-eight (128) of them with their tunes included, and the remaining ones have just the text printed. This combination of texts and tunes makes the collection an important resource for students, researchers, and especially musicians.

The brief Foreword was written by Shaker scholar, Daniel W. Patterson, who captures the importance of the thousands of texts and tunes produced by the Shakers. He writes: "These Shaker records are the richest documentation we have of any branch of American religious folksong of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which is itself much more richly documented than American secular folksong of the era." He also praises the two editors, writing that "Goodwillie and Crosthwaite are adding enormously to the body of vernacular tunes known to have had currency in American religious circles in these early years."

Next in the book are several essays by the editors.

First is Christian Goodwillie, curator of collections at Hancock Shaker Village. His essay is is subtitled: "The Birth of Shaker Hymnody" (p 1-23). His survey is a very good one, tracing the evolution of early Shaker hymnody and the publication of Millennial Praises, with ample quotes from original Shaker sources.

Jane F. Crosthwaite is a professor of religion at Mount Holyoke College. She subtitled her essay: "The Elaboration of Shaker Theology" (p 25-38). Her focus on the texts and how they relate to Shaker religious life provide fascinating insights into this significant aspect of their culture.

Goodwillie also provides a very good "Introduction to the Musical Scores" (p 39-46). He has gathered the tunes from five Shaker music manuscripts, compiled by Russell Haskell, Isaac Newton Youngs, Eleazer Stanley, Paulina Bryant, and Polly Rupe.

Goodwillie has written that even though it is a problematic manuscript to read, "Daniel Patterson and I feel it is crucial to include Youngs's tunes, since they present the tune used at New Lebanon, the seat of the Central Ministry." I would add that I.N. Youngs was also a self-taught music theorist and composed his own tunes as well. It is unfortunate that his variant tune for "Rights of Conscience" is not included in the Millennial Praises book. I believe it is a better example, since it does not have the flatted seventh note (Bb) used in Russell Haskell's manuscript, which is not typical of Shaker music practice. My variant edition of "Rights of Conscience" from a I.N. Youngs manuscript is performed on the Gentle Words CD.

The dependence on just a few published studies -- basically books by Edward Andrews, Harold Cook and Daniel Patterson -- fails to provide a broader perspective on more recent studies. All three books are very worthwhile sources but much more has been done since then. For instance, there is no mention of scholarly work done by others in Shaker hymnody, such as by Vicki Bell, Donald Christianson, Mitzie Collins, and myself.

In addition, there are several web sites with information about Shaker hymns, such as
Shaker Manuscripts On-Line which has sample hymns from Millennial Praises, and this American Music Preservation website which has extensive information about Shaker hymns. None of these web sites are listed in the Goodwillie/Crosthwaite book. This is a common oversight among some scholars who seem to mistrust anything that isn't written down in a book or an article. They seem especially reluctant to list anything from a website. In this day of fast media communications, that is old-fashioned snobbery and unfair to those who seek to distribute accuarte information in a more accessible way. There are mistakes or omissions in books as well and they sometimes go out-of-print faster than websites disappear.

There are relevant studies not mentioned in the Goodwillie/Crosthwaite book. One of them is a study done by Hilary Anne Selby titled: Millennial Praises: An Historical and Theological Assessment of Shaker Hymns (Indiana University, 1980, 184 pages).

Also there is my music column from the now defunct magazine, The Shaker Messenger, where I provided modern editions of six hymns from Millennial Praises:

"The Happy Journey" (Vol. 5/No. 1, 1983)
"The Shakers" (Vol. 5/ No. 3, 1983)
"Mother" (Vol. 5/No. 4, 1983)
"Rights of Conscience" (Vol. 6/No. 2 ,1984)
"The Seasons" (Vol. 16, No. 3,1995)
"Typical Dancing" (Vol. 16/ No. 4, 1995)

Three of these hymns were reprinted in the songbook and recorded on the accompanying CD for Love is Little: A Sampling of Shaker Spritiuals.

Two of the hymns ("The Shakers" and "Mother") were transcribed from the singing of Sister R. Mildred Barker. Brother Arnold Hadd mentions that these two hymns are the only ones from Millennial Praises still sung at Sabbathday Lake. So they are especially relevant. "The Shakers," is not easily sung in the MP book because they have failed to put it in D minor with a Bb in the melody. It would have been helpful to include both the original (Dorian mode) and modern edition (D minor) of this tune.

Yet none of these modern editions or recordings are mentioned in the Millennial Praises book.

Following the essays, the remainder of the book contains the hymns, some with more than one tune designated to a text.

Rather than give full credit to various Shakers, the hymns are only atrributed to them, such as: Richard McNemar, Issachar Bates, Seth Youngs Wells, and others. This is overly cautious and somewhat misleading since the names listed in the manuscripts are often the ones who wrote the text or the tune, or both. Why else would they be there?

One example of multiple melodies for the same text is one of the first important Shaker hymns, "The Happy Journey." For this hymn text, there are four separate tunes, all attributed to Jethro Turner. Others have fewer examples, such as "The Gospel Sound" (attributed to Issachar Bates) with three tunes; "The Seasons" and "Voyage to Canaan" -- both attributed to Richard McNemar with two tunes each.

As an added bonus there is a CD included with the book consisting of an introduction by researcher Otto Jantz and five Shaker hymns from Millennial Praises sung by 82 year old Brother Ricardo Belden from the Hancock Shakers in Massachusetts. The recorded quality of Brother Ricardo's singing is not very good nor is his voice very strong. But considering his age and when this was recorded back in 1950, this is a worthy historical artifact, not as significant but similar to the two Rounder recordings of Shakers singing their music: Early Shaker Spirituals and Let Zion Move. Neither of these two important recordings are listed in the Millennial Praises book. It would have added more perspective to include these two Rounder CDs and other recordings in a discography at the back of the book.

Even with all these reservations, this is still an wothwhile collection of Shaker hymn texts and tunes, and it is printed in a clean and easily read format.

The book cover, taken from a Shaker gift drawing detail, is most attractive and illustrates the beautiful symmetry of their folk art and music. There is a list of all hymn titles in the front and an Index of First Lines at the back of the book.



There are also a few illustrations from the original hymnal, such as the title page [shown at left], and a few Shaker manuscripts with the tunes.

Previously, the majority of the hymns in Millennial Praises have not been available with tunes so they could be performed. With this edition that is no longer the case. The texts are often lengthy and doctrinal but with the tunes added they are more complete and can be sung for the first time.

This scholarly edition of Millennial Praises is a major addition to Shaker literature, and will be of great value as a resource for study in early American religious life and also for performances of American religious folk song.

-- Roger Lee Hall, April 2009



To order the book, click on this link:

Millennial Praises: A Shaker Hymnal


For additional information about Shaker hymns, see

Books and Articles

A Checklist of Printed Shaker Hymnals

Shaker Music History

Shaker and Non-Shaker Tunes





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