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for music of the American Shakers
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SIMPLE GIFTS OF SHAKER MUSIC
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 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 Preservation.com 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 history.
Often the discussion of Shaker music is misleading or incomplete, including books published by university presses, who continually fail to list any available recordingsand the published Shaker music collections (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: songs, hymns, and anthems.
Because of their highly inspirational nature, like the Afro-American singing tradition, 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)
The lack of accurate information is especially true with two of the best known Shaker tunes, both written as dance songs:
"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 popular 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 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 and 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 properly. There's enough material available that colleges or universities could spend a whole semester on Shaker music.
These 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. Without them Shaker spirituals would remain buried in manuscript music books in a box or storage chest somewhere.
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 researchers, musicians and composers:
Please give proper credit to the editors of Shaker music.
The largest amount of sheet music and
recorded Shaker music
over 40 years of research
available on a multi-media DVD-R,
A Shaker Music Miscellany
(PineTree Productions, 2014)
"May We Ever Be United" -
Music of the North Union, Ohio Shakers
Anthem: "Mount Zion"
Hymn: "The Humble Heart"
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
"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:
"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
Read about the extensive research and numerous recordings of
Shaker music scholar and singer, Roger Lee Hall.
See his popular music lectures and workshops.
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,
the 20th century at this link:
Shaker Music History
Shaker music today
Shaker music in our time
Let Zion Move: Music of the Shakers
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
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.
Shaker Story Treatment
Book and CD Reviews
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" (book about the best-known Shaker song)
"Mother Has Come With Her Beautiful Song" -
Sister R. Mildred Barker
"Gentle Words" - Sister Marie Burgess
"I Want To Be Like The Lily" - Eldress Bertha Lindsay
"My Shaker Home" - Sister Lillian Phelps
"The Humble Heart" - In Remembrance of Randy Folger
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