Shaker music history
Books and articles
CD Reviews






Welcome to the largest and most accurate online source
for music of the American Shakers



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Latest publications available
with book, music albums, video clips...


Shaker Music in the 20th Century
by Roger Lee Hall
(PineTree Press, 2015)

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Great American Folk Song
by Roger Lee Hall
(PineTree Press, 2014)


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A few words of introduction

The last Shaker community is located at Sabbathday Lake, Maine which has an extensive research library that is especially strong in Maine Shaker history, and also has material from other Shaker communities and related communities.

Most of the information on these Shaker pages of American Music was written by Roger Lee Hall, an ethnomusicologist, composer and singer. He is one of the foremost authorities on Shaker music, having studied it and performed it for over 40 years.

For over two centuries, the Shakers produced an amazing amount of music estimated to be well over 10,000 separate tunes and texts in manuscripts and over 2,000 harmonized tunes in their printed hymnals.

Musicians, scholars, teachers and students beware!

Researchers should be careful when collecting information about Shaker music due to the amount of errors on some websites and in some books and articles focusing on Shaker or related history. Often the discussion of Shaker music is misleading or incomplete, including books published by university presses, who continually fail to list any available recordings -- a serious omission.

One of the most glaring errors is classifying all Shaker music as "songs."

There are actually three main types of Shaker music: one verse songs, multi-verse hymns, and prose anthems. There are also sub-categories such as gift songs, dance songs, inspirational hymns, prayer hymns, and ceremonial anthems.

Because of their highly inspirational nature, like the Afro-American singing tradition, all Shaker tunes are best identified together as "spirituals."


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


Shaker tunes are often incorrectly attributed and the Shaker composer or author is not identified.

For example,

"Come Life, Shaker Life" was composed by Elder Issachar Bates. His song, shown above in Shaker alphabet music notation, was used as a "quick dance" song for the Shakers. In the late 1960s it was the arranged as a folk-rock song, "Run, Shaker Life" by Richie Havens, without credit given to the original Shaker dance song or to Issachar Bates.

The same lack of credit for the composer is true for "Simple Gifts," composed by Elder Joseph Brackett Jr. and it has been common to list it with wrong titles such as: "The Gift to be Simple" or "Tis a Gift to be Simple." There have been numerous recorded arrangements of "Simple Gifts." For example, Judy Collins, Aaron Copland, Roger Lee Hall, Kevin Siegfried, John Williams and others. There was also a new song, "Lord of the Dance," by Sydney Carter which is based on the "Simple Gifts" tune.


Giving Credit Where It Is Due

Many writers and musicians have failed to give proper credit to the those who have worked on Shaker music. Also, they have not looked much beyond the best known Shaker song, "Simple Gifts," and seldom mention any of the Shaker spirituals available on recordings.

The Shakers produced thousands of tunes and many of them would be suitable for performance, providing they have been edited or arranged properly. There's enough material available that colleges or universities could spend a whole semester discussing Shaker music.

These music editors and researchers have made contributions to Shaker music:

Anne Azema, Vicki Bell, Donald Christenson, Joel Cohen, Mitzie Collins, Harold Cook, Randy Folger, Christian Goodwillie, Mary Ann Haagen, Roger Lee Hall, Colleen Liggett, Carol Medlicott, Daniel Patterson, Donna Phillips, and Robert and Viola Updahl.

Some CDs, such as Gentle Words (The Tudor Choir), give a list of editor's names but not which tunes they edited. The appropriate way is to list each editor's tune contributions in the CD booklet, as done on Simple Gifts (The Boston Camerata).

Since most of the early Shaker music was in alphabet music notation it is necessary to transcribe it and make it readable in conventional music notation. That is the work of a music editor, who also finds when possible the appropriate credit for the author of the words and composer of the tune.

Often it is just the music arranger who gets credit, not the music editor who first discovered it and made it available in a performing edition.

Note to researchers, singers, composers and arrangers:

Please give proper credit, when available, to the editors of Shaker music and the book or manuscript where it is found.







Shaker Music Discoveries


Music of the North Union, Ohio Shakers

Click here













Joseph Brackett's "Simple Gifts"


Read the interview from
January 20, 2011
with Roger Hall about his previous book
(now out-of-print)

Click here


"A Prayer for the Captive"
A Civil War era hymn
sung in memory of
President Abraham Lincoln




Popular Shaker Anthem: "Mount Zion"



Read about the anniversaries of
"The Earthquake"
"Come Life, Shaker Life"
"On the Landing of Mother Ann in America"
"I will bow and be simple"


Shaker music news









Music Broadsides


A series of attractive 8 1/2 X 11 broadsides in full color.

This series includes
the words and/or music to selected Shaker songs,
edited by Roger Hall,
with colorful art design by Gail Hall.

They make ideal gifts and are suitable for framing.


There are currently six Shaker song titles in this series:

No. 1: "Simple Gifts" (Elder Joseph Brackett Jr., Alfred, Maine, 1848)
[First line: 'Tis the gift to be simple 'tis the gift to be free]

No. 2: "Blended Together" (Elder Jospeh Holden, Mt. Lebanon, New York, ca. 1870)
[First line: Blended together as one we stand]

No. 3: "Love is Little" (South Union, Kentucky, ca. 1834)
[First line: Love is little, love is low ]

No. 4: "May I Softly Walk" (Mt. Lebanon, New York, 1869)
[First line: May I softly walk and wisely speak]

No. 5: "Welcome, Welcome" (Enfield, New Hampshire, 1869)
[First line: Welcome, welcome precious gospel kindred]

No. 6: "We Will All Go Home With You" (Canterbury, New Hampshire, 1862)
[First line: We will all go home with you, home to worlds of glory]


To order any of these colorful broadsides,
go to the




Contrary to what many writers have written, Shaker music is not all anonymous or "traditional."

In fact, a large number of their songs, hymns and anthems are credited to Shaker authors and composers. Many Shaker spirituals were written by a Shaker sister or brother, who wrote the words and/or the music.

For example these Shaker spirituals...



"Let Zion Move" by Eldress Mary Ann Gillespie
CD: Let Zion Move


"Blended Together" by Elder Joseph Holden
CD: Blended Together

Two of the most important CD releases are on Rounder Records with 40 spirituals each,
sung by the Shakers, with background notes by two authorities on the subject:




Early Shaker Spirituals:
The United Society of Shakers,Sabbathday Lake Maine,
with CD notes by Daniel W. Patterson




Let Zion Move: Music of the Shakers
2 CD set and illustrated booklet,
with CD notes by Roger L. Hall

Many of the harmonized hymns performed on this CD set are from the last printed Shaker hymnal
published in 1908 by the Canterbury Shakers


Shaker Music Series CDs


"Celestial Praises" - A Celebration of Shaker Spirituals
Arrangements by Roger Lee Hall and Conrad Held

25 Premiere Recordings!

Performed by The Canterbury Singers and Guest Soloists,
Kathryn Southworth
, Director

You can order a download of the music arrangements by
Roger Lee Hall from this CD at this link:

CD Baby





"Gentle Words" - A Shaker Music Sampler
Compiled by Roger Lee Hall





"Blended Together" - Interviews with The Shakers
Field recordings by Roger Lee Hall



Shaker Music Scholar and Singer


Shaker Music  Scholar Named to Who's Who Directory

Roger Lee Hall, a longtime enthnomusicologist and singer, has been named to the prestigious volume, Who's Who in the World. To read more about his extensive music research, go to this link:

Shaker music scholar and singer

See also his popular music lectures and workshops -- Click here







Shaker vs. Non-Shaker Tunes










Shaker Music History


Read the article by Roger lee Hall about the evolution of Shaker music
from the time of the early leaders:
Mother Ann Lee, Father William Lee, and Father James Whittaker,
to the 20th century at

The Simple Gifts of Shaker Music






Shaker Music Preservation Series


Click here






Shaker Music For Concerts, Recordings, and Films

If you are looking for one or more Shaker spirituals to perform in a concert
or to include on a recording, see
these links:

Shaker music arrangements

Shaker music collections and songbooks

Shaker music series

Attention film makers and documentary producers!

Shaker music can make an ideal accompaniment for your film

Write to:

Shaker Music for Film



Shaker Music Scholar Named to Who's Who Volumes

Roger Lee Hall, distinguished American music preservationist and one of the leading authorities on Shaker music, has received the high honor of being listed in these two distinquished directories: Who's Who in the World and Who's Who in America.

Read about his many Shaker music accomplishments -- click here 





Checklist of Printed Shaker Hymnals


Most Recorded Shaker Tunes


Click here






Book and CD Reviews


Book Reviews




CD Reviews







Related Links on this site


Shaker music books and articles

Checklist of Printed Shaker Hymnals

Shaker and Non-Shaker Tunes

Shaker Lectures and Workshops

Shaker Music Arrangements

Shaker Music News

Shaker Music on CDs and DVDs

Shaker Song Discoveries

Simplicity of Shaker Music

"Simple Gifts" (book about the best-known Shaker song)


Memorial Tributes

"Mother Has Come With Her Beautiful Song" - Sister R. Mildred Barker

"Gentle Words" - Sister Marie Burgess

"May I Softly Walk and Wisely Speak" - Eldress Bertha Lindsay

"My Shaker Home" - Sister Lillian Phelps

"The Humble Heart" - In Remembrance of Randy Folger








Please help support the educational mission of this website.

Order music books, CDs or DVDs at the

AMP Store

or from this Search box to



  Enter keywords...





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When using any of the information found on these pages
please give credit to

American Music


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