Book and CD Reviews
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Historical Dictionary of the Shakers
Millennial Praises: A Shaker Hymnal
Come Life, Shaker Life: 50 Shaker Tunes Arranged For Appalachian Dulcimer
Heavenly Visions: Shaker Gifts Drawings and Gift Songs
Mr. Lincoln's Chair: The Shakers and Their Quest for Peace
shaker songs: a celebration of peace, harmony and simplicity
Simple Gifts - Great Hymns: One Man's Search for Grace
Music of Angels:
Songs of the Shaker West
(The Pleasant Hill Singers)
Rose of Sharon -
100 Years of American Music, 1770-1870
(Joel Frederiksen and Ensemble Phoenix Munich)
And Glory Shone Around (The Rose Ensemble)
Carols from the Old & New Worlds, Volume II (The Pro Arte Singers)
Gentle Words (The Tudor Choir)
Harvest Home (The Dale Warland Singers)
The Golden Harvest: More Shaker Chants and Spirituals (Boston Camerata)
Shall We Gather: American Hymns & Spirituals (The William Appling Singers)
Simple Gifts (The Tudor Choir)
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Simple Gifts - Great Hymns: One Man's Search for Grace
by Bill Henderson
New York: Free Press, 2006 (hardcover edition); 2008 (paperback reprint), 208 pages.
At first glance, this seems like a worthwhile collection of thoughts about some of the best known hymns. Mr. Henderson is certainly entitled to his "search for grace" and that is an admirable pursuit.
But why at the expense of his uninformed writing about some of the hymns he has chosen?
For example, in the chapter he calls, Simple Gifts: Songs of Simplicity? Isn't his book supposed to be about "hymns"? Then why call them "songs"? Those are two different types of music, as he could have found out but consulting any music dictionary. Actually he uses "songs" for all but two of his chapter sub-headings. Besides that, why were such hymns as "In the Garden" and " Joy to the World" classified as Songs of Simplicity? He doesn't explain his rationale for such arbitrary classifications. But rather than discuss the other hymns he writes about, I'll focus on Mr. Henderson's discussion of the Shaker title on pages 28-46.
Oddly enough, "Simple Gifts" is a "song of simplicity." Technically, it should not be classified as a hymn because Shaker hymns have more than one verse and were not intended for dancing. "Simple Gifts" was clearly intended for dancing during worship. Mr. Henderson correctly identifies the song that way and it was written by Elder Joseph Brackett. Yet he never indicates where any of his quotes come from. Here is one quote:
"One elder reported that Elder Brackett had 'a remarkable and natural gift to sing by which he would fill the whole assembly with the quickening power of God.' "
Where does this quote come from?
I know where this quote comes from -- my monograph, Joseph Brackett's 'SIMPLE GIFTS' (now titled: The Story of 'SIMPLE GIFTS'). That source is not listed in Mr. Henderson's "Select Bibliography." This is sloppy research and is actually outright plagiarism. He fails to credit the source of this quote. This is surprising from the man who has been the publisher of the well respected Pushcart Press.
His discussion of the key words or phrases in the Shaker song are mostly on target, for example when he writes: "A gift is a particular bit of grace. This song is 'the gift,' and many gifts were received besides that one: visions, words, other songs, and directions on how to live, among them 'to be simple.' " But with other words he tries to tease the reader with suggestive descriptions, such as: "'Delight' carries a sexual connotation, as indeed it might, considering that it is part of a dance tune, however chaste the dance." Then he quickly confesses that: "This is not the bump-and-grind variety of delight. Perhaps only the celibate Shakers, dancing together but separated by sex, could ever realize the full spiritual meaning of delight." Such a statement is closer to the truth. Shaker dances were mainly intended to express a communal expression of servitude and sacrifice to God. That's why the dances were also called "laboring" or "excercises."
Readers may find Mr. Henderson's highly biased views of different hymns to be of interest, but they are advised to be careful with the description about "Simple Gifts" and the Shakers.
He seems more interested in praising their past achievements including their furniture rather than finding any actual Shaker hymns, of which many were written. For someone searching "for grace," he never bothers to look for their hymns or to speak with the few Shakers who remain at Sabbathday Lake. There are two Shaker hymnals (1884 and 1893) that the Shakers have been using and copies have been available for sale in the gift shop at Sabbathday Lake and at other Shaker museums. But rather than discuss any of their hymns, he dismissively calls the present day Shakers: "not the flame but a flicker." He writes this after first claiming "history has seldom been gentle to the gentle Shakers." So it seems he is not so "gentle" either, only being interested in the past Shakers, not the present day Shakers. Is that a fair assessment of a religious sect that has survived for several centuries and continues to have hymn singing as a major part of their worship? I don't believe it is and therefore his thoughts about the Shakers are highly selective and ill-informed.
So, in the final analysis, this seems a contradictory book. On the one hand it's a personal "search for grace" and that much is fine. Yet on the other hand he presents a somewhat negative view of religious customs, such as some types of hymn singing in church.
This book may be "one man's search for grace," but he doesn't look very thoroughly for his information for all the hymns, though some of his comments are more detailed, as in "Amazing Grace."
But, as Elder Joseph Brackett's song says, Mr. Henderson never seems to find himself "in the place just right" with regard to the Shakers and their considerable hymn tradition, which he totally ignores. He had the opportunity to tell his readers about a sadly neglected hymn tradition, but instead he latches onto the best known Shaker song because it has been used so often and is so familiar.
Thus, considering the title is "Simple Gifts." Mr. Henderson's book is very disappointing with regard to Shaker hymnody and their culture as well.
--- Roger Hall, November 2006 (hardcover edition)
shaker songs: a celebration of peace, harmony, and simplicity
Compiled and edited by Christian Goodwillie, with contributions from Joel Cohen
New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers Inc., 2002. 128 pages.
This is a beautifully illustrated book with many Shaker tunes available for the first time in modern editions. There are 53 Shaker tunes and an accompanying CD attached inside the front cover. The Shaker music transcriptions were done by Christian Goodwillie and Joel Cohen. The Introduction by Goodwillie provides a concise overview of Shaker music.
But looking through this collection, there are several problems.
First, there is the title. It is very misleading to designate all Shaker music as "songs." Shaker music consists of three main categories: songs, hymns and anthems. Since all three categories are found in this book, a better term would be "Shaker Spirituals." This is a term used by Daniel Patterson in his book on the subject, and I agree that it's the better term to use for Shaker music as a whole.
The next problem is the book's design. Is this meant to be an art book with music, or a music book with art?
It appears that the art design has obscured the music. Using multi-colored pages adds appeal but it also makes the Shaker tunes more difficult to read. Most of the tunes are printed on colored pages rather than plain white. On the other hand, the attractive illustrations are more often printed on the white pages. It is particularly annoying to have Shaker music printed both on colored and white pages. For example, the Shaker hymn "Rights of Conscience" (16-19) with the words and music printed over a green color and the extra stanzas on the facing page in white. Be aware that the last two stanzas on the CD are not the same as in the book. This just makes for unnecessary confusion. Goodwillie provides a good description though overly harsh opinion about by Elder Issachar Bates, but fails to mention that his tune is a variant of a popular 18th century tune,"The President's March," written in honor of George Washington. I have found an alternate version of "Rights of Conscience" that doesn't have any of the flatted sevenths in the book's edition. The alternate version is in C and makes more sense in the Shaker singing tradition.
A third problem with this book is the lack of identification for some tunes when they are known. On the accompanying CD, which was compiled mostly from the excellent Glissando release The Golden Harvest, many of the Shaker spirituals are identified. Yet in the book they are not always given. This is unfortunate because it gives the impression that they are unknown. Just to give one example - there's the anthem, "Trumpet of Peace" (pages 10-11). Goodwillie chooses to provide a quote about Mother Ann Lee's "mythologizied" voyage to America in 1774, instead of quoting the fascinating citation in the 1852 Shaker printed tunebook about this anthem:
Learned by inspiration, of Sister Olive Spencer, who said, This song was sung by the Angel of Light, which Mother Ann saw at the mast head, when the ship sprung a leak, &c Learned, 1839. New Lebanon, N.Y.
One of the great fallacies of Shaker music is that the majority of the tunes are anonymous. That's simply not true. One of the hymns not fully identified is "Holy Habitation." This beautiful hymn has words written by Sister Eunice Wyeth from the Harvard, Massachusetts Shaker community. The music was written much later at New Lebanon, NY about 1848.
Goodwillie also doesn't always give full credit for the Shaker composers. He doesn't give proper identification for the wonderful tune, " Angel Invitation," found in the Sabbathday Lake archive but written at South Union, Kentucky in 1859. Another one that gets no identification is the lovely song, "I Am An Angel of Light," also from South Union, Kentucky. Even though Mr. Goodwillie mentions several manuscript sources for "The Midnight Cry," he doesn't mention later variants, such as the one by Sister Polly Rupe from Pleasant Hill, Kentucky in 1846. These marvelous songs and hymns prove that not all the great Shaker tunes came from New England.
For the most famous of all Shaker songs, "Simple Gifts," Goodwillie writes that it is "usually attributed to Elder Joseph Brackett of the Maine Ministry." Well, why not just say it? Elder Joseph Brackett wrote this song. There seems to be ample proof of that fact. When Sister R. Mildred Barker wrote about Elder Joseph in an article in The Shaker Quarterly, she credited him with writing "Simple Gifts." She spoke with great authority since she had originally lived at the community in Alfred, Maine, where the song was composed in 1848. Fortunately, Goodwillie does provide a manuscript illustration which identifies this song as a "Quick Dance." Because it has only stanza of text, it is not a Shaker hymn, as classified by most media writers and musicians.
It is unfortunate that Goodwillie fails to provide a bibliography of books, articles and other collections of Shaker music. To say in his Introduction that "this rich heritage is as yet largely untapped," fails to recognize all the extensive research already done by a number of historians and musicians. He does mention Daniel Patterson and Mary Ann Haagen, but fails to mention the research done by other researchers: Edward Deming Andrews, Vicki Bell, Donald Christenson, Harold Cook, Mitzie Collins, Randy Folger, Colleen Liggett, and myself.
Even with all these reservations, this is a well written book by Goodwillie. He rightly emphasizes the spiritual side of Shaker life and writes with genuine affection for the music. At the back of the book are the Song Sources and Art Sources for those who might want to investigate them further.
The excellent CD has performances by the Boston Camerata, Joel Cohen, director; members of the Harvard University Choir, Murray Somerville, director; the marvelous Youth Pro Musica under Hazel Somerville's direction, especially on "Angel Invitation" (53); and The Shaker Family from Sabbathday Lake, Maine.
Even if you can't read music very well, you can follow along with the CD and book quite easily. Fortunately, the CD and tunes in the book are in the same sequence. One confusing song is "Untitled Dance Tune" (page 33), which on the CD is the last one of "A Suite of Five Dance Tunes," New Lebanon, N.Y. in 1842 (not identified in the book). On the CD, this tune is sung with un-Shaker like drones.
This is a book with many rare and beautiful tunes and pleasing illustrations from music manuscripts, drawings, and old photographs.
The sub-title says it quite well - "a celebration of peace, harmony and simplicity."
As the book illustrates - the music and art illustrations are peaceful yet profound, harmonious yet freely drawn, and simple yet elegant.
This collection of Shaker music, art and commentary gives a good sampling of the enormous treasures created by this simple band of Believers from America's oldest religious communal society.
-- Roger Hall, May 2003
Heavenly Visions: Shaker Gift Drawings and Gift Songs
Edited by France Morin
The Drawing Center, New York/ UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles/ University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
This is an attractive, well illustrated exhibit catalogue.
Unfortunately, the opening article, "Simple Gifts," fails to identify Elder Joseph Brackett as the composer of this quintessential Shaker song.
Of special interest to those interested in music is the well researched article, "On Gift Songs," by Mary Ann Haagen. This article includes many illustrations from Shaker music manuscripts.
One of the illustrations is found on page 147, titled: "Cat. 52. Book. O See this pretty leaf..."
Many years ago, I solved this ingenious Shaker music puzzle and included a transcription of it in his Shaker Song Series in The Shaker Messenger (Vol. 4/No. 3, 1982). It was revised and expanded for an article titled, ""The Shaker Leaf Song: Solving a Perplexing Puzzle" in the American Communal Societies Quarterly.
With the exception of Mary Ann Haagen's informative article, this illustrated catalogue is nice to look at but not very helpful to find accurate information about Shaker music.
-- Roger Hall, 2002
Come Life, Shaker Life:
50 Shaker Tunes Arranged for Appalachian Dulcimer
Compiled by Bill Collins
Private printing, 2001
This is a wonderful collection of Shaker tunes compiled from various Shaker books and arranged by Bill Collins. The collection is divided up into these categories: A Brief Background; Shaker Music Arrangements in the book; Printed Music, Tablature, Reference Books, and Videos; Lyrics, Tune History, and Playing Suggestions.
Following that introductory material (pages 1-19) are the 50 tunes arranged for Appalachian dulcimer (pages 20-74). For dulcimer players, this collection should provide many fine new tunes for your repertoire. This book is a handy collection with some of the best known Shaker tunes, including "I Never Did Believe"; "Love is Little"; "Sweep As I Go"; and of course the big two Shaker dance songs: "Come Life, Shaker Life" and "Simple Gifts."
Even if you don't play dulcimer, this collection is worth having in your Shaker library. It's beautifully designed (cover illustration by Harry Thompson) and printed.
A real treasure of worthwhile Shaker tunes.
-- Roger Hall, 28 October 2001
To find out how to get your copy, write to Bill Collins at:
And Glory Shone Around
The Rose Ensemble, Jordan Sramek, Director.
Sopranos -- Heather Cogswell, Kathy Lee, Kim Sueoka
Altos --Lisa Drew, Linda Kachelmeier, Kristine Kautzman (early American flute)
Tenors -- Jordan Sramek, William Hudson
Basses --John Bitterman, Mark Dietrich, Tim O'Brien (percussion)
Ginna Watson, Baroque and modern violin; Phil Rukavina (early guitar);
Julie Elhard (viola da gamba); David Burk (early gourd banjo).
CD Notes by Jordan Sramek.
Rose CD 00009, 2008
24 Tracks [Total Time = 70:17]
This CD displays a ample amount of exceptional singing and playing.
It contains a varied sampling of Early American Carols, Country Dances, Southern Harmony Hymns and Shaker Spirituals. They are not performed in authentic performance styles -- much of this music was originally performed without any instruments -- and it would be helpful to indicate that fact. But all the arrangements (not credited to any arranger) are tastefully done and add a nice touch of spice to this flavorful stew of religious music, much of it geared to the Christmas season.
There are also a few examples from England, such as: "Drive the Cold Winter Away" from John Playford's The English Dancing Master, and "The Old Angels Hymn" by William Tans'ur, based on several hymn tunes.
Among the fine early American vocal pieces are New England carols by William Billings ("Judea" and "Shiloh") and Daniel Read ("Sherburne"), which is sung too quickly in Shape-note style instead of the slower tempo which was the norm in early New England performance style. There are also Southern hymns ("The Babe of Bethlehem" and "Star in the East") from William "Singing Billy" Walker's popular tunebook, The Southern Harmony, first published in 1835 -- the 1854 edition was used for this recording.
One of the highlights is "Still Water" by Thomas Hastings from a music collection in 1878. This is a delightful melody and performed with genuine joy, in what the CD notes claim years later would become known as "Old Time Music." Yet, for all its gleeful singing, it is a misleading representation of this very straightforward Victorian music with the added fiddle and guitar, but it does make it more appealing to modern ears.
There are five Shaker spirituals included on this CD, three hymns and two songs, all but one from New York State printed Shaker music collections.
Two of the hymns are from an 1875 collection; the wonderful song, "Give Good Gifts," (first recorded on Joy of Angels: Shaker Spirituals for Christmas and The New Year), and a Gospel hymn, both are from a Shaker hymnal compiled by The North Family at Mt. Lebanon, New York and published in 1893.
The fifth Shaker spiritual is Patsy Williamson's memorable "Pretty Home," the only one from Kentucky. Jordan Sramek in his notes claims that "little is known" about Patsy. Not true. Daniel Patterson in his book, The Shaker Spiritual, first published in 1979 (not 1976 as indicated in the CD notes), provides a short biographical sketch on Patsy, a former black slave from North Carolina, who lived the remainder of her life as a Shaker sister in Kentucky and died in 1860. The performance is copied almost verbatim from the one recorded by The Boston Camerata with no mention of them. Joel Cohen of the Boston Camerata has stated this a unique Afro-American song. That is misleading because as Patterson wrote in his book: "significantly, it [Pretty Home] shows no trace of black song style."
The three Shaker Gospel hymns ("Harps of Welcome"/ "Morning Dawn"/ "Peace and Joy") have not to my knowledge been recorded before and are all sensitively performed in subtle arrangements. Of the three, I found "Peace and Joy" especially enjoyable, with a lovely solo by Kim Sueoka. The other two soloists (Kathy Lee and Heather Cogswell -- coincidentally, a Shaker sister carried this same last name) are also very good. Actually all the soloists on the CD are well matched to this music.
The title of the CD is from a line in Daniel Read's "Sherburne." This lively fuging tune has become an early American classic, thanks to various performing ensembles. Yet it was William Billings who set the stage for all the composers who followed in 18th and early 19th century American choral music. And in the case of "Judea" and "Shiloh," Billings also wrote the words. So he was the more prominent and also the more prolific of the two New England composers. But the title chosen for this CD was probably more appealing to the eye and the tune more striking to the ear, though as already stated it is performed at too quick a tempo.
The drab brown CD cover is probably intended to represent covers of early American hymnbooks but does not serve the festive music very well. However, the words and notes for the CD titles are included in a booklet in a handsome inside slipcase. The CD itself slips inside one of the pockets of this slipcase, which also has a box to indicate the CD owner.
The music is sure to appeal to those unfamiliar with the vast amount of exceptional religious music from earlier America. The Rose Ensemble demonstrates this music quite well with their joyous performances emphasizing the title --
"and glory shone around."
This is a diverse CD of music from earlier America and England on a very appealing recording.
--Roger Hall, December 2009
For more information about this CD, see
The Rose Ensemble
Carols from the Old & New Worlds, Volume II
The Pro Arte Singers and Indiana University Children's Chamber Chorus, Paul Hillier, director.
Harmonia Mundi CD HMU 907233
22 Tracks [Total Time = 63:00]
This fine collection of English and American carols from the medieval era to the 20th century has 5 Shaker spirituals, all taken from the Sampler collection, Joy of Angels: Shaker Spirituals for Christmas and the New Year.
The opening selection, "This is Jesus Birthday" (transcription by Randy Folger), is arranged as a lively round, perhaps a bit too fast, but it's certainly energetic.
The next selection, "Give Good Gifts," is a lovely Shaker gospel song and is very sensitively performed.
The third Shaker spiritual is the long revival hymn, "Hail the memorable morn" (transcription by Randy Folger), attributed to "Elders Bates and McNemar." That's a bit confusing, since only Elder Issachar Bates wrote the tune. Elder Richard McNemar wrote the text.
Following that selection is Sister Martha J. Anderson's marvelous Christmas hymn,"Sweetest music softly stealing."
The fifth Shaker spiritual is the very short, "To all the good children, a happy New Year," which closes out this CD with the adult and children's chorus singing together.
This is a very good recording of Shaker spirituals and other Christmas music.
It is beautifully performed too.
-- Roger Hall, 1999
Gentle Words - Shaker Songs arranged by Kevin Siegfried
The Tudor Choir, Doug Fullington, Director
Loft CD LRCD 1041, 2001
28 tracks [Total Time = 67:35]
In the past decade or so there has been a steady increase in Shaker music recordings, some good and others not so good. Some have only a few Shaker tunes with little to recommend. Others present the Shaker tunes in their original versions.
This is a rather lengthy review because this CD deserves it.
There are 28 Shaker tunes, most of them set in contemporary arrangements by Kevin Siegfried a doctoral student at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.
Anyone who has heard other Shaker recordings should recognize some of the Shaker tunes included on this CD, such as "Followers of the Lamb"; "Love is Little"; and "Come to Zion."
Siegfried has made good choices in the tunes he has chosen to arrange. As he writes in the CD booklet: "my goal in arranging these Shaker melodies for choirs is to make them accessible and useful in modern worship and concert settings." While his arrangements are suitable for concert performances, I'm not sure that the average church choir would be able to handle the modernistic harmony settings. That's not to deny his well-constructed arrangements.
But there are a few problems...
What I noticed first was the CD title. Since there are both Shaker songs and hymns included, it is misleading to indicate them all as: "Shaker Songs." It would have been more accurate to use "Shaker Spirituals," as employed by Daniel Patterson and myself. Also, the CD volume levels were very low. I had to turn the volume way up to adequately hear the performances.
Also, Siegfried fails to provide the sources for each of the tunes he has arranged. Instead he just lists his sources in the Bibliography.
Unfortunately, the interpretations are not always accurate.
The opening track has a medley of two Shaker tunes: "I will bow and be simple" and "Who will bow like a willow." This is an awkward mixing of both tunes in an "antiphonal performance" which the Shakers probably never sang and surely they didn't mix two tunes together. Also, the word "yea" is mispronounced. It should be pronounced with a long a (as in "say") and not be pronounced as "ye" as the singers pronounce it.
The five soloists ( Ann Glusker, Lisa Cardwell Ponten, Penni Ferraris, Linda Sabee, David Stutz) are adequate. Unfortunately, they sometimes sound a bit tentative. This is especially apparent in David Stutz's weak solo singing of "Love is Little", and Penni Ferrari's shaky singing of the great anthem, "Revelation" (track 20). Known by its first line ("I looked and lo a lamb stood on Mount Zion"), this anthem was a favorite of Sister Mildred Barker, who recorded it in its most authoritative version on Early Shaker Spirituals.
"Almighty Savior" (track 26), an intensely reflective hymn by Elder Issachar Bates, is apparently from my transcribed edition printed in The Shaker Messenger magazine (Winter 1987). In the CD bibliography, there is no mention of it in the now defunct magazine, where I had a regular column - between 1981 and 1996. I have done quite a bit of research on Elder Issachar and don't think anyone else has found this marvelous hymn, composed a year before his death. Siegfried's arrangement of "Almighty Savior" is quite expressive and beautifully performed.
The twenty-four page CD booklet has notes by Siegfried and all the words are included. The one verse songs are frequently broken up to appear like several stanzas. To avoid confusion, it would be better to have only the multi-verse hymns with separate stanzas.
"In Yonder Valley" (track 2) uses two different text versions of the song with "take our fill" from one manuscript (in The Shaker Spiritual); and "drink our fill" (in Love is Little) from another manuscript. This isn't indicated in the notes.
"All is Summer" (track 3) has an very appealing arrangement for women voices.
"Love is Little" (track 5) is a lovely arrangement of this popular Shaker humility song. I first published it in 1976 in my first music collection, A Western Shaker Music Sampler.
"Followers of the Lamb" (track 10) uses four of the six stanzas. Why not sing them all? Two extra stanzas shouldn't take up that much time. When I sang "Followers of the Lamb" on the Love is Little CD, I performed all six stanzas. Siegfried writes that it "resembles an early American revival hymn." Actually it is a revival hymn. The soloists (Stutz and Glusker) and choir perform "Followers of the Lamb" in lively fashion, with hand clapping and foot stomping as the Sabbathday Lake Shakers have traditionally performed it.
"Peace" (track 16) is actually titled, "Peace to Zion." The arrangement is very sensitive to the words of this haunting Enfield Shaker song.
"Angels of Heaven" (track 17) is another song with a different title: "Slow March." I found this charming Ohio Shaker song about thirty years ago in a manuscript and included it in my 1976 collection. Then I reprinted the song in the Love is Little songbook.
"Prayer for the Captive" (track 21) is also included in Daniel Patterson's book, where it's titled: "Supplication in a Nation's Calamity." Siegfried's arrangement opens with a soloist (Stutz) singing the melody, then goes off on a darkly hued choral setting which suits this strong anti-war Civil War hymn by Cecilia DeVere. It was reportedly sung on the day of Abraham Lincoln's funeral in many of the Shaker villages.
The title song of the CD, "Gentle Words" (track 22), has a few changes in the melody, such as on the words: "troubled mind." Still it's a fine arrangement. To my knowledge, I was the first to transcribe "Gentle Words" and publish it in 1976. It was reprinted in The Shaker Messenger magazine in 1989 and then again in the Love is Little collection. I have always believed it to be one of the most expressive Shaker songs. I'm pleased that it has become so popular. It has been used as the title of Randy Folger's CD and now this CD as well - which Siegfried has dedicated to Randy's memory - an appropriate tribute to one of the most dedicated past Shaker music performers.
Besides the tunes already mentioned, others I found appealing include: "Lay Me Low" (track 13) - an ingenious arrangement for eight-part chorus, with voices gradually dropping off or "laid low." This is the highlight of the entire CD - a beautiful setting of a Shaker melody reminiscent of a Native American melody. Another outstanding arrangement is "Cords of Love" (track 27) - an effective setting of this memorable gift song from Canterbury.
The final song, "I will go on my way," is from the 1908 Canterbury hymnal. It's ironic that I first heard this song sung by Eldress Bertha Lindsay at Canterbury, New Hampshire back in 1972. The song is a good way to end this CD of Shaker arrangements.
Even with my reservations over lack of proper identifications and interpretations, this remains a very good selection of Shaker tunes.
Kevin Siegfried 's arrangements are respectful and tasteful. I recommend this CD to anyone who wants to hear what can be done with these beautiful Shaker melodies.
The Tudor Choir performs the music with great clarity and sensitivity, under Doug Fullington's fine direction. Their performances reflect both the joy and contemplation of Shaker religious life.
A very appealing CD, with outstanding choral performances, and an attractive album design.
-- Roger Hall, July 2001
For more information go to the Gothic Catalog: Gentle Words
The Golden Harvest: More Shaker Chants and Spirituals
The Boston Camerata, Joel Cohen, director
Members of the Harvard University Choir, Murray Forbes Somerville, director
Members of the Youth Pro Musica, Hazel Somerville, director
The Shaker Family of Sabbathday Lake, Maine
Glissando CD 779 020-2, 2000 [Time = 76:36]
This CD is the second volume of Shaker music featuring the same performers.
The first one, titled Simple Gifts, was released in 1995 on the Erato record label and was very popular. That CD had 33 Shaker spirituals.
The new Glissando one has 38, and includes many Shaker tunes from manuscripts in the library of the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine.
Several of the tunes have been recorded on other CDs: "Sweep As I Go" (Joy of Angels) & "Woben Mesa Crelana" ( All at Home).
I was pleased to see "Holy Habitation" included since I have longed believed it to be one of the most meaningful Shaker hymns. I wrote an arrangement of this hymn and it is included in A Guide to Shaker Music). The tune was composed at New Lebanon, New York to a beautiful text by the gifted poetess, Eunice Wyeth from the Shaker community at Harvard, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, she is not credited on the CD.
With so much information available on Shaker music, it's too bad that a few obvious errors have slipped by.
For example, "Rights of Conscience" was not written by Issachar Bates at New Lebanon, New York. He wrote it in Ohio about 1810, as I identified it in a music column back in 1984. It is correct that his tune was freely based on "The President's March" written in honor of George Washington. The tune was also later used for the patriotic song: "Hail, Columbia!" The use of the edition found in Daniel Patterson's The Shaker Spiritual is not the most typical one for this important Shaker hymn. The altered third of the scale was seldom used in Shaker tunes.
Another Shaker tune on the CD, "Woben Mesa Crelana," which is beautifully performed by Donald Wilkinson and the Camerata men, is not identified in any Shaker manuscript to my knowledge as being an Indian Song. Instead, it was said to be received in an "unknown tongue."
Also, I believe the designation "chants" in the CD title is misleading. This was a term seldom used by the Shakers. It implies connections to unrelated song traditions, such as Gregorian or Anglican chants. Another questionable practice is the use of bass drones in a few of the tunes without designating them as interpretations or arrangements. I haven't found any hard evidence that the Shakers used bass drones during the 19th century, when the tunes were composed.
But these misgivings aside, this is a well prepared and performed CD.
The solo singers are very good, including the husky voiced Deborah Leath Rentz, the lighter voices of Anne Azema and Margaret Frazier, and especially the deep bass of Joel Frederiksen. The various choruses (Boston Camerata, Harvard University Choir and Youth Pro Musica) do their tasks admirably.
For me, the most poignant song on this CD is the simple and powerful song, "Angel of Light" (track 25), beautifully sung by Margaret Frazier. The following song, "Angel Invitation," sung by the Youth Pro Musica is another outstanding discovery.
And what about the Sabbathday Lake Shakers? They don't have any solo tunes, but do perform with other singers on these tracks: 3, 5, 8, 10, 15, 19, 24, 26, 28, 30, 33, 37, 38. The Shakers get the opportunity to sing by themselves in an interview with Joel Cohen on the last track of the CD. The Shakers talk a bit about their music and sing two of their favorite tunes: "Fall On The Rock" (a haunting humility song) and "Sweep As I Go" (a song sung traditionally at Christmas time),- the words and music are available in Joy of Angels.
The notes by Joel Cohen and the Shakers are extensive and very informative, and include the words for all the music, plus a list of the manuscripts and printed hymnals that were consulted.
The CD cover photo of the red barn at Sabbathday Lake is quite attractive. But the color photo on the back inside cover of the musicians is poorly shot, very dark and filled with shadows. The black and white photos mixed within the texts are too small and hard to see clearly. It was a wise decision to include oval portraits of two of the greatest Maine Shaker musicians: Elder Otis Sawyer and Sister Mildred Barker. Both made considerable efforts to preserve the Shaker music tradition and their work remains in the documents at Sabbathday Lake.
Many of the Shaker spirituals on the CD are recorded for the first time anywhere. A special commendation should go out to Joel Cohen and Anne Azema, who transcribed most of the tunes from the manuscripts in the Sabbathday Lake Shaker library. They have made a real contribution to the cause of Shaker music research.
The CD title is taken from the last song: "The Angel Reapers." The last lines read:
"Say, brothers will you go with me, Go to the land of promise;
Say, sisters will you meet me there, In the land of the Golden Harvest?"
As these words expressed so well - listening to this CD will take you to
"the land of the Golden Harvest."
I recommend going there soon.
-- Roger Hall, 2000/ revised 2011
For more information about this release, go to:
(The Dale Warland Singers)
Gothic CD G49243, 2005
17 Tracks [Total Time = 55:37]
Of the diverse songs and hymns on this CD, four of them are by the Shakers, sung in tasteful arrangements.
The first Shaker song is "Simple Gifts" (track 2, 2:14) in a fine arrangement by Dale Warland for singers, guitar and flute. Proper credit is also given of this Shaker dance song as composed by Elder Joseph Brackett. Fortunately, there are no inappropriate additional verses added by some non-Shaker author, as often happens these days. This is one of the best recent arrangements of the most famous Shaker song.
Two of the other Shaker songs are by Kevin Siegfried and were featured on the Gentle Words CD, as performed by The Tudor Choir and released on a Gothic CD. The first one is the reflective "Peace" (track 4, 3:19). The actual title of this Shaker song is: "Peace to Zion" and it comes from Enfield, New Hampshire and is included in the music collection, Love is Little: A Sampling of Shaker Spirituals. The other song is the wonderfully expressive tune: "Lay Me Low" (track 16, 4:01). This haunting Shaker song has been attributed to Addah Z. Potter, from New Lebanon, New York, 1838, and included in the book, The Gift to be Simple: Songs, Dances and Rituals of the American Shakers.
The most striking of all is the Shaker song, "Not One Sparrow is Forgotten" (track 9, 2:44), lovingly arranged by New York composer, William Hawley. This beautiful arrangement is dedicated to Dale Warland. The song comes from Mt. Lebanon, New York and is included in an 1884 Shaker hymnal. I believe it is the first time this Shaker song has been recorded and is well worth being re-discovered.
I highly recommend this lovely CD, not just for the Shaker songs, but for every one of the well chosen tunes.
It is especially worth having since this superb singing ensemble has now disbanded.
This HARVEST HOME CD is an excellent example of brilliant choral singing and direction,
and is a commendable farewell release for The Dale Warland Singers.
-- Roger Hall, April 2006
Music of Angels: Songs of the Shaker West
The Pleasant Hill Singers.
Verdant Groves Music Foundation CD-VGMF01, 1999
33 Tracks [Total Time = 55:26]
This new CD was co-produced by Vicki Bell and Randy Folger, and featuring various soloists ( Vicki Bell, Randy Folger, Tommy Hines, Jennifer Rose, Kathy Shewmaker, others) plus the Pleasant Hill Singers. There are 31 original Shaker spirituals on the CD and two arrangements by Jack Bomer.
Many of these spirituals are recorded for the first time. Here are some of the titles, all from Pleasant Hill, Kentucky: "A Welcome Song" (Polly Rupe); "Music of Angels" (Betsy Spaulding); "O Hear the Heavenly Harpers" (Nancy Harris); "Mother's Good Drink" (Patsy Williamson); "A Pretty New Song" (Anon.); "I'll Reel, I'll Reel To and Fro" (Hortency Hooser); "Mongst All the Pursuits and Toil" (John Dunlavy); "Pretty Love and Union" (John Whitbey).
This is a wonderful recording and should appeal to anyone searching for new Shaker music from the western communities in Kentucky and Ohio.
The CD is dedicated to the memory of Randy Folger (1952-1999).
-- Roger Hall, October 1999
Rose of Sharon - 100 Years of American Music,
Ensemble Phoenix Munich
(Lydia Brotherton, soprano; Deborah Rentz-Moore, mezzo-soprano; Timothy Leigh Evans, tenor, drum; Joel Frederiksen, bass, guitar; Karen Walthinsen, violin; Andreas Haas, flute; Domen Marincic, vioncello; Axel Wolf, guitar)
harmonia mundi CD HMC 902085, 2011
30 tracks [Total Time = 71:45]
Shaker music tracks:
1. Lay me low
16. Come, Shaker life
17. O love, sweet love
18. Now, my dear companions
19. Who will bow and bend like a willow
20. My carnal life
21. Stubborn oak
22. 'Tis the gift to be simple [Simple Gifts]
This is another CD in the continuing series of music from earlier America by various early music ensembles.
Probably the best known ensemble to perform this music from 1770 to 1870 is The Boston Camerata, directed by Joel Cohen. In fact, the main soloist and producer of this Rose of Sharon CD is Joel Frederiksen. Another is Deborah Rentz-Moore. Both of these soloists are included on one or both of the two Boston Camerata CDs of Shaker music with the Sabbathday Lake Shakers: The Golden Harvest and Simple Gifts: Shaker Chants and Spirituals.
This Rose of Sharon CD is divided into these sections:
The Battle for Freedom (tracks 1-6)
The Father of American Choral Music [William Billings, 1746-1800](tracks 7-9)
Shape Notes and Singing Schools (tracks 10-15)
Shaker Spirituals (tracks 16-22)
Music from the Civil War (tracks 23-27)
Revival meetings and Spirituals (tracks 28-30)
I'll be reviewing the Shaker Spirituals section. I had hoped that this selection would include something really new. But with the exception of the brief song, "O love, sweet love," all the Shaker music is familiar and has been recorded before more than once. But, more importantly, there are misleading or incorrect statements made by Joel Frederiksen in his CD notes.
First, he doesn't identify any of the Shaker composers. "Come Life, Shaker Life" was composed by Issachar Bates in 1835 and "'Tis the gift to be simple" was composed by Joseph Brackett in 1848. And both were written as dance tunes, which is not mentioned.
Also, Frederiksen writes: "Now my dear companions is unusual because it is one of the few Shaker songs to be composed in multiple." Not true! The Shakers began using three part harmony in the 1830s and four part harmony in the 1840s. This is information that is readily available on any of the books on Shaker music, including my own. It is also mentioned on this web site in the Shaker music history section. To not identify any of the composers leads to the often misunderstood assumption that all Shaker music was anonymous. That is certainly not correct. It is true that some of their tunes are not identified but Issachar Bates and Joseph Brackett should have be listed on this CD.
All the performances are very good, especially if you enjoy early music performers. Both Joel Frederiksen and Deborah Rentz-Moore have very fine voices and sing the Shaker music with restraint and respectful simplicity. All the Shaker spirituals are performed a cappella which is appropriate for this period.
The recorded sound is somewhat distant, as if the engineer did not bring up the volume enough, especially for the singers. This is a common problem with classical and pop CDs today. Fortunately, there is a separate booklet with all the words to the recorded music.
The biggest omission is no listing of any of the sources for the Shaker spirituals. Why not list the books or music collections where this wonderful music is found?
It is a continual disappointment for me that these early music ensembles continue to perform the music without any investigation of the sources or possibilities for any of the other Shaker songs, hymns and anthems -- there were many thousands of them.
This CD focuses on the best known historical periods -- the Civil War and American Revolution, when one of the first prominent Shaker tunesmiths, Issachar Bates was a young fifer. Years later after he joined the Shakers, Bates composed a lengthy ballad, "Rights of Conscience," and based it on "The President's March" tune which is included on this CD but no mention is made of this connection.
At the end of his CD notes, Frederiksen writes:
The full range of early American music cannot be condensed into a single CD. I would just like to open a small window in order to throw some light on the rich patchwork of music which was woven in America, from north to south and from east to west, between the two great wars.
It is hoped that should this fine ensemble record another CD of early American music, they open that "small window" wider and include more Shaker spirituals that better represent their singing tradition.
-- Roger Lee Hall, October 2011
Shall We Gather: American Hymns & Spirituals
William Appling Singers; Diane Marazzi, organ; William Appling, conductor.
Albany CD TROY 476, 2001
27 Tracks [Total Time = 58:47]
William Appling Singers; Diane Marazzi, organ; William Appling, conductor.
Even though this CD has been out for a few years, I recently bought a copy and so that's the reason for this late review.
The CD features the performance of over two dozen American hymns and spirituals, some well known and others much less so. They include such 19th century folk hymns as: "Nettleton" and "Wondrous Love"; well known hymns like, Lowell Mason's "Watchman, Tell Us of the Night" and Robert Lowry's "Shall We Gather at the River?"; a number of fine old Afro-American spirituals, including "Rise, Shine, for Thy Light is A-Comin'"; "The Old Ship of Zion", and the wonderfully descriptive "Inching Along"; and one Shaker hymn: "More Love."
While the singing of this lovely Shaker hymn is nicely done, the source used for this hymn is not so good. It was included in a collection known as American Hymns Old & New (Columbia University Press, 1980). The setting of "More Love" from an 1876 Shaker hymnal is not the same as the one in American Hymns. It has been arranged and has not been indicated that way in the AH collection. It gives the impression that it's the original Shaker version, but it's not. The same is true for another song in that AH collection: "Gospel Liberty." This lack of proper identification is one of the serious drawbacks of AH. It was probably unknown to William McClelland, who appears to have written all the CD music notes. But this is still unfortunate since the more common version of "More Love" is found in the Edward Deming Andrews book, The Gift to be Simple, which is included in the CD's Selected Discography. Why include the Andrews book and yet not at least mention the single line melody version of the Shaker hymn? That version of "More Love" is now the one most generally known and has been featured on several other CDs, such as Love is Little.
Another complaint is the overly reserved singing of the spirituals. They sound too "white bread", as a former black music director once told a chorus of all white singers. The refined singing works well with the hymns but I think a more emotionally explosive performance of the black spirituals would have provided greater diversity to the choral sound.
Nevertheless, what concerns me the most is the one Shaker hymn included that's incorrectly identified. Hopefully other singers won't make the same mistake of thinking the four part arrangement of "More Love" in AH is the original Shaker four part harmony. There are other Shaker hymns in original four part harmony that might have been featured on the CD, such as "Prayer Universal" or "Redeeming Love" (both included in the Love is Little collection).
The group of 13 singers under William Appling's careful direction perform with much dignity and respect for the music.
A special kudo to Ian Frazier's brilliantly written introductory notes in the CD booklet. If only more writers were as eloquent as he!
Even with my concern about the Shaker hymn's improper identification, I still think this is a worthwhile collection of American hymns and spirituals.
It should provide much enjoyment to those searching for a good sampling of religious music from America's past.
-- Roger Hall, October 2003
For more about the William Appling Singers, go to -
The Tudor Choir, Doug Fullington, Director.
Shaker music arrangements by Kevin Siegfried, Aaron Copland, Bob Chilcott.
Gothic CD G-49265, 2008
22 Tracks [Total Time = 59:35]
This CD has a misleading title.
With a title like Simple Gifts you might expect that this is another collection of Shaker spirituals similar to the earlier well-received Tudor Choir CD titled Gentle Words. But that is not the case. On the new CD out of 22 titles there are only 4 Shaker titles:
"The Humble Heart"
"Star of Purity"
"All at home"
The opening track is the only one of the Simple Gifts versions which is not an arrangement, but the original source is not given. It only states that it was gathered from "Shaker manuscripts" (which ones?). The other three versions of "Simple Gifts" are fine arrangements by Kevin Siegfried, Aaron Copland, and Bob Chilcott. But is it really necessary to have four arrangements of this popular Shaker dance song?
"All at Home" is from my performing edition in the Love is Little music collection from Sampler Records. Much of the information about the Shaker composers and communities also comes from the same Love is Little collection and not credited on this CD.
The singing by The Tudor Choir is okay but the interpretations are overly fussy and without much feeling.
Like so many American choral albums these days, the Shaker music has not been carefully researched and does not provide much information. In addition, these performances of the Shaker tunes by The Tudor Choir are without much emotion and expression.
Because of these failings, I think this is an unsatisfactory presentation of the Shaker music.
The other pieces by William Billings, John Rutter, Virgil Thomson and others on the CD are worth a listen but they too are uninspired.
-- Roger Hall, July 2010
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