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Shaker Music in Our Time

Shaker song: "Simple Gifts" Edited by Roger Hall
© PineTree Music



Meeting The Shakers


In his collection of songs, poems and stories titled, "Dream World," composer and ethnomusicologist Roger Lee Hall, tells the story how he met several Shaker sisters during the 1970s that led to his extensive research and recordings of Shaker music over the past 40 years. In 1972, he interviewed two Shakers from Canterbury, New Hampshire who were both very musical, Eldress Bertha Lindsay, and the Shaker sister shown here...

Sister Lillian Phelps (1876-1973)
© Gail Hall, 1972







Also discussed in "Dream World" is the first and only meeting of several Shakers with the distinguished composer, Aaron Copland in 1974, known for his wonderful arrangements of "Simple Gifts" in Appalachian Spring and Old American Songs. One of the Shakers who met Copland was Sister R. Mildred Barker [shown at left], the best known Shaker singer of the past half century.

© Gail Hall, 1978


See also these memorial tributes to departed Shakers:

Eldress Bertha Lindsay



Sister Marie Burgess


Interviews with the Shakers


During the 1970s and 1980s,
Roger Lee Hall conducted interviews
with the Shakers at Canterbury, New Hampshire
and Sabbathday Lake, Maine.


Read highlights of these interviews on a CD-ROM,
Blended Together - Interviews with The Shakers

which includes an audio album and picture gallery


Arrangements vs. Editions


The most popular and best known Shaker song today was written back in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett Jr. and titled: "Simple Gifts."

There have been many arrangements of this well known Shaker dance song, especially those by Aaron Copland.

Also there have been different editions of"Simple Gifts" which have been published, including those by Edward Deming Andrews, Roger Hall, and Daniel Patterson.

With all the versions of "Tis the gift to be simple" being written today, there exists some confusion between what is an arrangement and what is an edition.



An arrangement is a piece of music that has been significantly altered, such as adding new voice parts and keyboard or other instrumental accompaniment. For example,"Love is Little," a Shaker song arranged as a four part chorus [shown at left] by Roger Hall, is an arrangement since it has three voice parts added to the original melody. Examples of Shaker arrangements are found in the Music Supplement of A Guide to Shaker Music. See also: Shaker music arrangements






An edition is basically the original music itself with only minor changes. No significant alterations are made to the original music. Examples of this are found in Daniel Patterson's The Shaker Spiritual and Roger Hall's Love is Little: A Sampling of Shaker Spirituals [shown at left].

See the music editions listed at

Shaker Books and Articles

There are also recordings with
edited Shaker music at

CD and DVD Releases



Whichever type is used for performance,
the arranger or editor should always be credited in concerts or recordings.

Remember that original Shaker music may be in public domain, but much of it would not be available for performance if it were not for the work of the arrangers and editors. They deserve to be recognized for their work.

One example of a Shaker song with both an edition and arrangement is by the last Shaker male from a Massachusetts Shaker community, Brother Ricardo Belden. He was interviewed in the mid-1950s by Jerome Count from the Shaker Village Work Camp in New Lebanon, NY. Brother Ricardo sang one Shaker song during the recorded interview,

"Living Souls, Let's Be Marching" --included on the CD compiled by Roger Lee Hall: Gentle Words - A Shaker Music Sampler

There is a fascinating article titled, "Brother Ricardo Belden Revisited" by Magda Gabor-Hotchkiss in American Communal Societies Quarterly, Vol. 6/ No. 1 (January 2012). She maintains that Brother Ricardo Belden was born in 1868 not 1870, as previously thought. Also included are several pictures of Brother Ricardo demonstrating Shaker dances.

"Living Souls Let's be Marching" is available on two different CDs and songbooks, the first one an edited version and the second CD has an arrangement:

Love is Little: A Sampling of Shaker Spirituals (edited by Roger Hall)

For the Love of Zion (arranged by Jack Bomer)


Are you looking for Shaker music to perform or research
for an article or book?

See the 56 Shaker songs and hymns listed at the

Shaker Music Series








Three multimedia music collections on DVDs
with historical information, sheet music,
music albums and video clips...




"The Humble Heart" - A Forty Year Survey of Shaker Music

"Give Good Gifts": Shaker Music in the 20th Century




"Simple Gifts"- Great American Folk Song




Shaker music in our time


The Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine is the only surving one and believed to be the oldest surviving religious communal society in the United States, having begun back in the 1780s.

Other Shaker Shaker communities have existed previously in Connecticut. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York State, and also in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

There are two historic Rounder CD releases available with singing and speaking about their music by the Shakers:

Early Shaker Spirituals

A CD collection of 40 Shaker spirituals sung by The United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Maine. Many of the spirituals are sung by Sister R. Mildred Barker, the foremost Shaker singer of her time. The spirituals include laboring songs, gift songs, prayer songs, a hymn and anthem and several interviews with Sister Mildred Barker. Booklet notes for all the music by Daniel W. Patterson.

You can order from here:



Let Zion Move: Music of the Shakers

This 2 CD set includes 40 Shaker spirituals sung by the Shakers from Canterbury, New Hampshire and Sabbathday Lake, Maine. It includes a history of Shaker music narrated by Sister R. Mildred Barker and Sister Lillian Phelps. There are also interviews with Sister R. Mildred Barker, Eldress Bertha Lindsay, and Sister Lillian Phelps. The interviews were done in 1960 by William Randle, and in 1972 and 1980 by Roger Hall, who has compiled and written the notes for this unique historical collection. The set also has an illustrated 72 page booklet with examples of Shaker music and the words to all 40 Shaker spirituals plus a bibliography and discography.


To order from,






There are also two CDs featuring the Boston Camerata and other musicians, joined by the Shakers from Sabbathday Lake:

Simple Gifts: Shaker Chants and Spirituals

The Golden Harvest: More Shaker Chants and Spirituals



Both original Shaker tunes and arrangements
of Shaker songs and hymns

are included on this CD
dedicated to Sister Mildred Barker and Sister Lillian Phelps,

Celestial Praises: A Celebration of Shaker Spirituals



More interviews are on this CD...

Gentle Words: A Shaker Music Sampler (AMRC 0016)




Concert Music and Documentary


John Adams and his Shaker Loops

One of the most popular classical compositions of the past few decades is an instrumental piece titled, Shaker Loops, composed by composer, John Adams. He composed this piece in remembrance of where he grew up in New England. As he tells it:

From the front window of our home in New Hampshire I could see Shaker Road, which led several miles up through the woods to a defunct Shaker colony in the nearby tiny village of Canterbury. As a child I'd heard stories, probably exaggerated, of the 'shaking' ceremonies. 'Shaker' had originally been a term of mockery. In fact, these church members called themselves the United Society of Believers. But the image of their shaking dance caught my attention. The idea of reaching a similar state of ecstatic revelation through music was certainly in my mind as I composed Shaker Loops.

--from Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life
by John Adams, pages 91-92.



Ken Burns and Shaker Music

Ken Burns is known for his well received series on PBS television,
such as"The Civil War"; "Baseball"; and "Jazz."

One of his first documentary films he made was premiered on PBS in 1985:


  Ken Burns' America: The Shakers

Ken Burns' America: The Shakers





Film Project


A story treatment is available for consideration by filmmakers or film producers interested in a making a dramatic film about the early Shakers, including their most prominent early church leaders who were also singers and songwriters.

The story of their early years and voyage from England to America, their triumph over persecution and prejudice, and their early missionary travels would make a highly compelling dramatic film or a documentary.

The hauntingly beautiful Shaker music would be ideal for the film's soundtrack.

Inquiries about this story treatment and music should be directed to:

Shaker Film Project



Music Commissions


Would you like to commission one or more Shaker spirituals for a concert,
church service or a special event like an anniversary?

Roger Lee Hall has arranged many Shaker tunes over the past three decades.

He is available to edit or arrange Shaker music for solo voice or
for a chorus with or without accompaniment.


To inquire about music for a special event or a concert,
write to:

Shaker Music Commission


Are you interested in scheduling an entertaining music program
with Roger Lee Hall for your school, college, church, museum
or other organization?

For a listing click on this link for

Music Lectures and Workshops





Related Links


CD and DVD Releases -- original and arranged Shaker tunes.

Joseph Brackett's "Simple Gifts" -- about the best known Shaker song.

Reviews of Books and CDs -- relating to Shaker music.

A Shaker Music Miscellany -- Deluxe DVD with 10 music collections.

Shaker Music Scholar -- research and publications by Roger Lee Hall.



If you have any questions, write to:

Shaker music in our time

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