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The Simple Gifts
Shaker Music in America

Part Two: The 19th Century

Early hymns

About 1805, the first hymns were written down with text only, without any tunes.

The first printed Shaker hymnbook, Millennial Praises, was printed at Hancock, Massachusetts in 1812-1813 and had 140 hymn texts but no tunes. Later on there were tunes written down for the hymns in Shaker music manuscript volumes.

These are a few of the prominent hymns in Millennial Praises:

Mother -- the best known early Shaker ballad hymn by Richard McNemar which tells the story of early Shakerism and Mother Ann Lee's journey from England to America.

Rights of Conscience -- a hymn by Issachar Bates which includes a tribute to George Washington.

"The Humble Heart"

One of the most beautiful early Shaker hymns is titled, The Humble Heart , words by Eunice Wyeth (1756-1830) and tune by Thomas Hammond Jr. (1791-1880).

This hymn is a good example of the sharing of creative work by Shaker members, with the words by a Shaker sister and the tune by a Shaker brother, later a Harvard Shaker church leader.

"The Humble Heart" was written at the Shaker community in Harvard, Massachusetts about 1822. Harvard was the place where Mother Ann Lee resided in the early 1780s and the community was very active in music, especially during the early years.

Here is a manuscript copy of this Harvard hymn in Shaker letteral notation:

An arrangement of "The Humble Heart," sung by Colleen Liggett and
Roger Hall, is included on the CD: Gentle Words: A Shaker Music Sampler,
and the sheet music is available in the Music Supplement of A Guide to Shaker Music.

The Shakers began composing in more than one voice part in the 1830s. One of the earliest was is the three part hymn (soprano-tenor-bass), Ode to Contentment.

They began using four part harmony, though not extensively, during the 1840s.

By the 1850s, thousands of hymns and songs had been written, most of them single line melodies.

"On the Landing of Mother Ann in America"


The most important anniversary celebrated each year by the Shakers is the arrival of Mother Ann Lee and a small number of Believers in America.

They left Liverpool, England in May and arrived in New York City on August 6, 1774. This is a very important date because it signifies the beginning of the Shaker Church in America. The event was often celebrated with special new songs and hymns.

One of these is a ballad hymn titled, "On the Landing of Mother Ann in America," and it had four verses.

This is the first verse:

O hail this happy welcome day,
When blessed Mother Ann
First landed in America
With her devoted band.
How did the wilderness resound
With Angel's songs of praise
When they on fair Columbia's ground
The gospel standard raised.

Again let the forest loudly resound,
Dear Children of Mother;
Her beautiful way our Spirits have found,
Surpassing all others.

This hymn was written at North Union (today Shaker Heights, Ohio) just before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1860.

It was introduced by Roger Hall during the Bicentennial Conference at Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio in Ocober of 1974, and then sung again the next month when the Sabbathday Lake Shakers were in Shaker Heights for a teacher's workshop.

The complete hymn was published in a performing edition prepared by Roger Hall and sung by The Sampler Singers on the CD, Love is Little: A Sampling of Shaker Spirituals.


Post-Civil War music


After the Civil War, the number of single line melodies declined and harmonized songs, hymns and anthems increased throughout the remainder of the 19th century.

It is not generally known that more of the music from after the Civil War was composed by Shaker sisters.

Here are a few songs and hymns in the 1893 Shaker hymnal by Shaker sisters, all of them have been recorded:

"Give Good Gifts" - Sister Martha J. Anderson
"If Our Home Is So Beautiful" - Sister Elizaette Sutton
"In My Father's House" - Sister Eliza Rayson
"In Wisdom's Lovely Pleasant Ways" - Eldress Anna White
"Look Up Through The Clouds" - Eldress Mary Ann Gillespie
"Peace and Joy" - Sister Grace Bowers
"Precious Gospel Kindred" - Eldress Mary Ann Gillespie

Eldress Mary Ann Gillespie (1829-1887)

There were over 2,000 original Shaker songs, hymns and anthems included in their printed hymnals. For a checklist of these hymnals -- click here.

Shaker anthems

Around 1815, the third type of Shaker music was introduced -- the anthem.

This was a longer piece of unrhymed music, similar to anthems by New England composers like William Billings and Jacob French.

One of the most prominent early anthems was "Mount Zion" by Issachar Bates (1758-1837), composed about 1815, as shown in this manuscript copy...

The anthem was included in the first published Shaker hymnal with music, A Sacred Repository of Anthems and Hymns, printed in 1852 at Canterbury, New Hampshire by this Shaker leader,

Elder Henry C. Blinn

"Mount Zion" is performed on the CD, Gentle Words: A Shaker Music Sampler

A much later anthem in four voice parts (SATB) was Elder James Russell's 1883 anthem, "Millennial Praise" [recorded on Gentle Words].

All three types of Shaker music (songs, hymns, and anthems)
continued to be written throughout the 19th century.

Two Shaker dance songs


"Simple Gifts" -- This is the best known Shaker dance song. Unfortunately, the song is often incorrectly identified as a "Traditional Shaker Hymn." Actually it is NOT a hymn. Read more about it at this link: Joseph Brackett's "Simple Gifts"

"Come Life, Shaker Life" -- Issachar Bates, who composed this quick dance song, had been a fifer in the American Revolution and afterwards a Baptist song leader before he joined the Shakers in 1801. He was the first Shaker major tunesmith and he made missionary journeys to Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. He was also a church elder at various communities before returning to New Lebanon, NY in 1835.


Shaker music CD and songbook

The words and music for many 19th century Shaker titles are included in the songbook and accompanying CD titled:

Love is Little: A Sampling of Shaker Spirituals

This CD and songbook has 36 Shaker spirituals representing all the major Shaker communities, from Maine to Kentucky.

The collection has a representativeselection of different types of Shaker music, such as dance songs, gift songs, greeting songs, humility songs, march songs, anthem and gospel hymns. In addition to the words and music for all the spirituals, there are also extensive notes and a bibliography of Shaker collections and editions.



See also,

Shaker music manuscript
(Courtesy: Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio)

This gift drawing is described in an article by Roger Hall titled,

"The Shaker Leaf Song: Solving a Perplexing Puzzle"

Go to Part Three: 20th Century Shaker Music>



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