Shaker music history
Books and articles
CD Reviews



Music of the American Shakers -
Resources and Recordings







Recent publications and CDs
by ethnomusicologist and composer,
Roger Lee Hall


Mr. Hall's dynamic piano composition,
"Seven Variations on a Shaker Marching Tune"
is included on this CD,
AMERICAN PLACES - Musical Travels

Blended Together:
Interviews with The Shakers
(booklet, picture gallery and recorded music)



"Invitation to Zion":
A Shaker Music Guide
(with recorded music examples)






Journal Article --
"Simple Gifts": The Discovery and Popularity of a Shaker Dance Song



Mr. Hall will be presenting an illustrated music talk with singing
about how Shaker music has touched the hearts and minds of many people,
also focusing on Shaker women composers and singers
from Mount Lebanon, New York, Canterbury, New Hampshire,
and Sabbathday Lake, Maine.
His talk will be on Saturday, August 5 at 1:00 p.m.
at Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire
This is the title of his paper:

"Give Good Gifts"
The Simplicity of Shaker Music

For more information about this program -- Click Here

Read about the multi-media computer disc with music examples and concert videos,
"Give Good Gifts" -- Click Here








Shaker music in our time

Too many people know too little about music of the American Shakers (also known as: The United Society of Shakers).

Many people know and enjoy the best known Shaker song titled "Simple Gifts" (aka: 'Tis the gift to be simple).

But only a small number of researchers and musicians have bothered to investigate further any other Shaker music, which numbers in the thousands of original tunes composed over several centuries.

There has been too much emphasis on the first book about Shaker music by Edward Deming Andrews, first published in 1940 (reprinted in 1962 and 1967). Much research has been done since that book was published and available in books, CDs and DVDs.

The last remaining Shaker community is located at Sabbathday Lake, Maine which has a museum and research library (open by appointment).

The Shaker music information on this site was written by Roger Lee Hall, an ethnomusicologist, composer and singer. He is one of the foremost authorities on Shaker music, having researched, edited and performed it for over 40 years.
Read about his extensive work with Shaker music -- click here

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

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

There are actually three main types of Shaker music:

--single verse songs (for example, "Simple Gifts")
--multi-verse hymns (for example, "The Humble Heart")
--through-composed or prose anthems (for example, "Break Forth Into Singing")

There are also many sub-categories of Shaker music, such as: gift songs, dance songs, inspirational hymns, gospel anthems, and other types.

Because of their highly inspirational origins, like the Afro-American tradition, Shaker tunes are best classified together as "Shaker spirituals."

Since it is religious folk music, Shaker tunes are often thought to be by unknown composers. Not true!

Many of the Shaker spirituals are credited to Shaker brethren and sisters and sometimes both are credited for a single Shaker spiritual, such as the beautiful Shaker hymn, "The Humble Heart, with words by Eunice Wyeth and music by Thomas Hammond Jr., both from the Harvard Shaker community in Massachusetts.

Often the discussion of Shaker music is misleading or incomplete in books and articles, including those published by university presses, who fail to list available recordings and identify the latest Shaker music research.

It is common to identify all Shaker music as being "Traditional" or "Anonymous." That is inaccurate since many Shaker spirituals have been credited to a Shaker member. One example is "Give Good Gifts" by Sister Martha Jane Anderson

Their earliest music came from an English folk song tradition. Their first church leaders also wrote songs, like Mother Ann Lee (Lees), the spiritual head of their church wrote songs. Father James Whittaker wrote what is believed to be the first complete Shaker song with words and music in 1787: "Father James's Song (aka: In Yonder Valley)."

Sometimes a Shaker song is arranged by a non-Shaker musician. One of the best known Shaker quick dance songs is
"Come Life, Shaker Life".
In the late 1960s this Shaker song was arranged as a folk-rock song, "Run, Shaker Life" by Richie Havens, without credit given to the original Shaker dance song or to its composer, Issachar Bates.





The same lack of credit for a Shaker composer is true for the best known Shaker song, sung or played at three inauguration ceremonies for U.S. Presidents: Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Titled, "Simple Gifts," it was composed in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett Jr. It has been common to list this song with incorrect titles such as: "The Gift to be Simple" or "Tis a Gift to be Simple," which were never used when this song was sung in the 19th century. There have been numerous recorded arrangements of "Simple Gifts" for example: Judy Collins, Aaron Copland, Roger Lee Hall, John Williams, and others. There was also a popular folk song, "Lord of the Dance," by English songwriter, Sydney Carter, which is based on the "Simple Gifts" melody.





Giving Credit Where It Is Due

Some writers and musicians have failed to give proper credit to the those who have editd Shaker tunes.

Two of the most active music researchers and editors of Shaker music have been Roger L. Hall and Daniel W. Patterson. Both have published an extensive amount of Shaker music and Hall has also performed Shaker music in concerts and composed new music based on Shaker texts.

Others who have edited Shaker music include:
Anne Azema, Donald Christenson, Joel Cohen, Milzie Collins, Randy Folger, Christian Goodwillie, Mary Ann Haagen,
Carol Medlicott, Donna Phillips.

It is best to credit the editors of Shaker music, and if none are mentioned, then the published title of a book or music collection.

There's enough material available that colleges or universities could spend a whole semester discussing Shaker music and its connections to American culture in general.

Since most of the early Shaker music was in alphabet music notation -- what they called "letteral notation" -- it is necessary to transcribe their tunes and make them readable in conventional music notation. For more about Shaker music notation, see: "Invitation to Zion" - A Shaker Music Guide by Roger L. Hall -- click here


Please Note:

All the information provided on this website is copyrighted.
Should you wish to publish any original illustrations or information,
please give credit to this site: American Music

Write for permission to reproduce any pictures or music for commercial publication -- cick here












Shaker Music Triptych

A major resource series on multimedia DVDs by Roger Lee Hall

No. 1: "The Humble Heart" -
A Forty Year Survey of Shaker Music

(PineTree Productions, 2016)





No. 2: "Give Good Gifts"
Shaker Music in the 20th Century
(PineTree Productions, 2015)




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















Shaker Music Scholar Honored in Who's Who

Roger Lee Hall, the distinguished ethnomusicologist and American music preservationist and one of the leading authorities on Shaker music, has received the high honor of being listed in two highly regarded directories:

Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World

To read about his extensive music research -- CLICK HERE

See also his music lectures and workshops -- CLICK HERE












Shaker music history

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




























Shaker 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 Joseph 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

AMP Store



Original Shaker Music Recordings


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



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







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





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





Shaker vs. Non-Shaker Tunes




Shaker Music Arrangements
for concerts or other performances









Shaker Music Preservation Series





Deluxe multimedia DVD




The Simplicity of Shaker Music






The Summer of a Shaker Song - 1967

Click Here



















Deluxe DVD: A Shaker Music Miscellany






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, or a film
these links:

Shaker music arrangements

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









Checklist of Most Recorded Shaker Tunes

The list of the Most Recorded Shaker Tunes
between 1961 and 2011
is included on this DVD:









Book, CD and Theater Reviews


Book Reviews




CD Reviews


Theater Reviews



ANGEL REAPERS (Martha Clarke and Alfred Uhry)

AS IT IS IN HEAVEN (Arlene Hutton)






Related Links on this site

"The Best Choice" - A Sampling of American Communal Hymns


Shaker music books and articles

Shaker and Non-Shaker Tunes

Shaker lectures and workshops

Shaker music arrangements

Shaker music in our time

Shaker music news

Shaker music on CDs and DVDs

Shaker music discoveries

"Shaker music speaks to the heart" (The Lewiston Journal, July 18, 1987)

"Simple Gifts" (multi-media computer disc about the best-known Shaker song)

This information about Shaker music here on American Music was revised and updated from an earlier site known as AMERICAN SHAKER MUSIC available Online between 1998 and 2005 and no longer active.
However, links to it are still available for reference at Shaker Pedia








Please help support the educational mission of this website.

Order music books, CDs or DVDs at the

AMP Store




Please remember to credit this website

When using any of the information found on these pages
please give credit to ethnomusicologist, Roger Lee Hall




For any questions, write to:


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No pictures or images on this site to be used for publication without prior permission.