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"Come Life, Shaker Life" - dance song from a Shaker music manuscript
(Courtesy: Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio)



The Shakers are the oldest surviving religious communal sect in the United States of America.

The last Shaker community is located at Sabbathday Lake, Maine where there is a museum and library.

Today the Shakers are known primarily for their simple and beautiful furniture.

Yet their music played a longer and more important role in Shaker history. They have proably composed more music than any other religious community in the USA -- well over 10,000 tunes. 

Contrary to popular belief, all Shaker tunes are not "Traditional" or "Anonymous."

It is also incorrect to call all Shaker music -- "songs."

There were three main categories of Shaker music: one verse songs, multi-verse hymns and
through-composed anthems.

Because they were often inspirationally received and revivalistic, like Afro-American spirituals, they are best classified as -- Shaker spirituals.

But they are not all anonymous. Many of these spirituals are attributed to individual Shaker brethren and sisters.

One example is the quick dance song, "Come Life, Shaker Life" composed by Elder Issachar Bates about 1835 [manuscript music shown above].

During most of the 19th century, the Shakers used a type of alphabet music notation (a-b-c-d-e-f-g) which they called the "letteral system" -- used in the above illustration.

For CDs and DVDs with Shaker music -- click here

For Shaker music books -- click here

 

The Simple Gifts
of
Shaker Music in America

 

 

 

Note: This illustrated article written
by ethnomusicologist and Shaker music scholar, Roger Lee Hall,
will be available in a new multimedia publication titled:

"The Humble Heart" - Shaker Music in New England

Available in February 2016

 


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