Shaker music history
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A few words of introduction

This is the largest and most accurate online site about music of the United Society of Believers (better known as The Shakers), America's oldest religious communal society. The last Shaker community is located at Sabbathday Lake, Maine.


Most of the information on these Shaker pages of American Music were 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 of them in 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 history. Often the discussion of Shaker music is misleading or incorrect. For example, classifying all Shaker music as "songs." There are actually three main types of Shaker music: songs, hymns, and anthems. Because of their highly inspirational nature, they are best termed together as "spirituals." Or saying that most or all Shaker music is "anonymous." That is not correct.

The lack of accurate information is especially true with two of the best known Shaker songs, both written to accompany Shaker dances:

"Come Life, Shaker Life" by Elder Issachar Bates Sen.

"Simple Gifts" by Elder Joseph Brakett Jr.

"Come Life, Shaker Life" by Issachar Bates was used as the basis for a folk-rock song, "Run, Shaker Life" by Richie Havens, without credit given to the original Shaker dance song or composer.

The same lack of credit for the composer is true for "Simple Gifts," and it has been common to list it with titles such as: "The Gift to be Simple" or "Tis a Gift to be Simple." Both of these titles are incorrect and were not found in the original Shaker manuscripts.

There have been numerous arrangements of "Simple Gifts." For example, Sydney Carter (Lord of the Dance), Judy Collins, Aaron Copland, Roger Lee Hall, Kevin Siegfried, John Williams and many others.



Giving Credit Where It Is Due

Many writers and musicians and even online schools teaching music history have failed to give proper credit to the editors of 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 properly. There's enough material available that online universities could spend a whole semester on Shaker music, or even do a multi-night performance without repeating any songs!

Without editors and researchers such as: 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, Robert and Viola Updahl, these Shaker spirituals would remain buried in manuscript music books in a box or storage chest somewhere. Without this valuable research, the music would likely remain lost.

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).

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

Note to scholars, musicians and composers:

Please give proper credit to the editors of Shaker music.




Historic Meeting - 40th Anniversary

© photograph by Gail Hall, 1974

Roger Lee Hall, introduced the distinguished American composer, Aaron Copland to three Shakers from Sabbathday Lake, Maine for the first and only time in 1974.
Read about it at this link:

Aaron Copland Meets The Shakers





"Gentle Words" - A Shaker Song Discovery




Read about...


The Simplicity of Shaker Music




Joseph Brackett's "Simple Gifts"



A Sampling of Shaker Music



Blended Together -
Discoveries Along The Shaker Music Trail
by Roger Lee Hall




"May We Ever Be United" -
Music of the North Union, Ohio Shakers

This music collection is available here.


The largest amouint of recorded Shaker music anywhere
collected from 40 years of music research...

Deluxe DVD:
A Shaker Music Miscellany






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 poets 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 Shakersl.


Shaker Music Series
on CDs


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

A New CD with 25 Premiere Recordings!

The Canterbury Singers,
Kathryn Southworth
, Director

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

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




Read about the extensive research and numerous recordings of
Shaker music scholar and composer, Roger Lee Hall.

Click here









Non-Shaker and Shaker Tunes

Read about the anniversaries of
"The Earthquake" (1811),
"Come Life, Shaker Life" (1835),
"On the Landing of Mother Ann in America" (1860),
"A Prayer for the Captive" (1862)


Shaker music news









Shaker Music History


Read the article 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 present day at this link:

Shaker Music History






Shaker Music In Our Time



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

"Gentle Words" - Memorial to Sister Marie Burgess

"I Want To Be Like The Lily" - Memorial to Eldress Bertha Lindsay

"My Shaker Home" - Memorial to Sister Lillian Phelps

"The Humble Heart" - In Remembrance of Randy Folger

A Shaker Song Discovery

Let Zion Move - Music of the Shakers (2 CD set)

Shaker Music Archive

Shaker Music News







"Simple Gifts" arrangements on CDs





Shaker Music For Concerts or Recordings

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

Checklist of Printed Shaker Hymnals

Music Collections and Songbooks



Shaker music collections



Shaker songbooks








Attention film makers and documentary producers!

A story treatment about the early struggles by
the Shakers in America
and with suggested music is available by request.

Write to:

Shaker Story Treatment



Read a review of the play by Arlene Hutton
about nine Shaker sisters at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky
at this link:





Book and CD Reviews


Book Reviews




CD Reviews




Copies of the out-of-print magazine,
THE SHAKER MESSENGER may still be available at





Related Links


Shaker music books and articles

Checklist of Printed Shaker Hymnals

Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village

Shaker and Non-Shaker Tunes

Shaker Lectures and Workshops

Shaker Music Arrangements

Shaker Music News

Shaker Music on CDs and DVDs

Shaker Workshops - Who are the Shakers?

Simple Gifts of Shaker Music






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American Music


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