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The Shakers in America
The United Society of Believers, now known as The Shakers, began in the 1780s and eventually had communities in New York State, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia and Florida.
The last two Shaker communities have been in New England.
The former one at Canterbury, New Hampshire no longer has
any Shakers living
and is now a well preserved museum.
The last Shaker member, Sister Ethel Hudson, died at Canterbury in 1992.
The other one is at Sabbathday Lake, Maine.
It is the only active Shaker community
is believed to be the oldest religious communal society
having begun back in the 1780s.
A choral arrangement of the Shaker hymn
"Celestial Praises" (Canterbury, New Hampshire, 1841),
originally printed in "letteral" (or alphabet) music notation,
plus other Shaker songs and hymns are
included on this
In his collection of songs, poems and stories titled, "Dream World," composer and ethnomusicologistRoger 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.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)
Canterbury, New Hampshire, 1972
In 1974, the distinguished composer, Aaron Copland in 1974, known for his wonderful arrangements of "Simple Gifts" in Appalachian Spring
and Old American Songs, met several Shakers from Sabbathday Lake, Maine. One of the Shakers who met Copland was Sister R. Mildred Barker (1897-1990), the best known Shaker singer of the past half century. This meeting is described in this publuication:
Also available is an informative illustrated monograph of historical material and lyrics to 25 of the best known Shaker spirituals, and also with an accompanying music album on a multimedia CD-ROM.
It is titled,
This monograph has discoveries by ethnomusicologist, Roger Lee Hall, and includes interviews with Eldress Bertha Lindsay and Sister Lillian Phelps at Canterbury, New Hampshire, also
Sister Mildred Barker at Sabbathday Lake, Maine.
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 ofA 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].
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,
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:
One of the most popular classical compisitions 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 trhough 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."
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:
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. Notes and texts for all the music are provided by Daniel W. Patterson.
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 (Bill) Randle, and in 1972 and 1980 by Roger Hall, who has compiled and written the notes for this unique historical collection. This 2 disc set also includes a 72 page illustrated booklet with examples of Shaker music and all the texts for the Shaker spirituals on the CDs.