Shaker Music

From Shaker Pedia

Shaker Music performances

Modern versions

The Shakers considered music to be an essential component of the religious experience. The Shakers composed thousands of songs, and also created many dances; both were an important part of the Shaker worship services. In Shaker society, a spiritual "gift" could also be a musical revelation, and they considered it to be important to record musical inspirations as they occurred. Scribes, many of whom had no formal musical training, used a form of music notation for this purpose: it used letters of the alphabet, often not positioned on a staff, along with a simple notation of conventional rhythmic values. This method has a curious, and coincidental, similarity to some ancient Greek music notation.

Many of the lyrics to Shaker tunes consist of syllables and words from unknown tongues, the musical equivalent of glossolalia. It has been surmised that many of them were imitated from the sounds of Native American languages, as well as from the songs of African slaves, especially in the southernmost of the Shaker communities, but in fact the melodic material is derived from European scales and modes.

Most early Shaker music is monodic, that is to say, composed of a single melodic line with no harmonization. The tunes and scales recall the folksongs of the British Isles, but since the music was written down and carefully preserved, it is "art" music of a special kind rather than folklore. Many melodies are of extraordinary grace and beauty, and the Shaker song repertoire, though still relatively little known, is an important part of the American cultural heritage and of world religious music in general.

Several hymnbooks with more conventional four-part harmonization were published by the Shakers in the late nineteenth century. These works are less strikingly original than the earlier, monodic repertoire.

The surviving Shakers sing songs drawn from both the earlier repertoire and the four part songbooks. They perform all of these unaccompanied, in single-line unison singing. The many recent, harmonized arrangements of older Shaker songs for choirs and instrumental groups mark a departure from traditional Shaker practice.

The most famous Shaker song is "Simple Gifts", which Aaron Copland used as a theme for variations in Appalachian Spring. The tune was composed by Elder Joseph Brackett and originated in the Shaker community at Alfred, Maine in 1848. Many contemporary Christian denominations incorporate this tune into hymnals, under various names, including "Lord of the Dance," adapted in 1963 by English poet and songwriter Sydney Carter.

Some scholars, such as Daniel W. Patterson and Roger L. Hall, have compiled books of these songs, and groups have been formed to sing the songs and perform the dances. There are recordings available of Shaker songs, both documentation of singing by the Shakers themselves, as well as songs recorded by other groups (see external links). Two widely distributed commercial recordings by The Boston Camerata, "Simple Gifts" (1995) and "The Golden Harvest" (2000), were recorded at the Shaker community of Sabbathday Lake, Maine, with active cooperation from the surviving Shakers, whose singing can be heard at several points on both recordings.

From Wikipedia

References from WSSG old web pages


"Early Shaker Spirituals" [1]    The beauty and grace of Shaker culture is reflected in these authentic songs, rendered by members of the United Society of Shakers of Sabbathday Lake, Maine.
I Hear America Singing [2]
Music Buffs-Shaker Music [3]  Site by Roger Hall.  See photograph of Aaron Copland with Sister Mildred Barker when they met at Shaker Heights, Cleveland, on Nov. 9, 1974.
Gourd Music [4]
Arrangements of Shaker Music-Simple Gifts,Tree of Life,Music on the Mountains [5]
THE SHAKERS by Gail Corbin (Dance Video) [6]
The Boston Camerata: Simple Gifts [7] The Boston Camerata recorded Shaker music in the Meetinghouse at Sabbathday Lake. Samples of music can be played.
The Boston Camerata: Angels [8] An award winning CD. Shaker selections.
The Boston Camerata: Online Newsletter [9] Sabbathday Lake Shakers sing with
Norumbega Harmony [10] Norumbega Harmony is one of the largest and most active groups of Sacred Harp and shape-note singers in New England. A recording of Shaker music done at the Old Hancock Shaker Village called Shaker Songs:
Article in the Detroit Free Press [11] -November 11, 1998, "150 Years of

VHS Videos about The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing:

The Shakers:  Hands To Work  Hearts To God    A film by Ken Burns and Amy Stechler Burns. A Florentine Films Production.  58 minutes color, 1985.  Distributed by Direct Cinema Limited. Inc. Phone (213) 652-8000.  There is a companion book:  Amy Stechler Burns & Ken Burns.  The Shakers:  Hands To Work  Hearts to God.  New York:  Portland House.
The Shakers  Narrated by Ben Kingsley.  Produced by Films For the Humanities & Sciences.  52 minutes color.  For more information call 800/257-5126 or 609-275-1400.
The Shakers in America   Produced by Applause Video, 1991.  28 minutes. V2003   ISBN: 0-940630-27-3.
The Shakers [12]
Shaker Images:  "Pleasant Hill:  Remembered, Restored, Revisited."   This videotape serves as a good introduction to the Shakers and to their utopian dream in central Kentucky, and to those early pioneers in preservation, whose foresight rescued 30 historic Shaker structures from ruin and decay.  27 minutes color.
Shaker Images:   "The Architectural Heritage of the Shakers at Pleasant Hill." 21 minutes.
Shaker Images:   James Lowry Cogar:  A Living  Tribute." 21 minutes.
Shaker Images:   "Recollections of Mercer County."  27 minutes.
Shaker Images:  "With Hands and Hearts"  Famed actress Helen Hayes narrates this dramatic portrayal of the Shaker experience at Pleasant Hill.  25 minutes color.
Main Street:  South Union Shakers.  Bowling Green, Ky.:  WKYU-TV, Western Kentucky University, 1990. 
The Shakers:  The Frugal Gourmet   MPI-Home Video.  Actual Shaker recipes:  Baked Bean Soup, Shaker Fresh Herb Soup, Shaker Daily Loaf, Oyster & Ham Pie, Stuffed Onions.
Into A More Perfect Order   Produced by Michael A. Breeding.  Narrated by Peter Thomas. TRT 14:58.  Pleasant Hill Shakers
"I Don't Want to be Remembered as a Chair" Produced by Jane Treays for the BBC.  Unfortunately, this excellent video in unavailable in the USA.  You may be able to get a copy if you call the BBC office in New York City.
E-Mail [13] The Village Woodsmith Video Series:  "How to" videos from the shop of Garry Smith in Otselic Valley, Upstate New York.  Videos on how to make a Shaker Clock,  Shaker Oval Boxes, and a Shaker Hall Table.  For more information

Audio Tapes and CDs of Shaker Music:

Angels:  Voices From Eternity   The Boston Camerata, Joel Cohen, and Tod Machover.  Angels is a guided tour in music of the Angel world, combining Gregorian chant, early American hymns, and Shaker spirituals with computer-generated sound.  Shaker songs include:  Angel of Light, Father William's March, Declaration of the Mighty Angels, Your Camps Shall be Searched, The Call of an Angel, O Little Children,  and Trumpet of Salvation.   ERATO  1997  Timing:  59:09.  (14773-2)
All at Home:  The Singers of Lower Shaker Village   Directed by Mary Ann Haagen.  Enfield, New Hampshire.  Thirty-four Gift Songs, Hymns, and Anthems.  A Celebration of the Shaker Musical Tradition.  IMPACT MEDIA  1995.  (CD5020)
Bow and Be Simple  South Union Shaker Quartet,  South Union, Kentucky
Early Shaker Spirituals  The beauty and grace of Shaker culture is reflected in these authentic songs, rendered by members of the United Society of Shakers of Sabbathday Lake, Maine -- one of the few surviving Shaker communities in Maine. This collection of forty19th century Shaker spirituals (including Tis the Gift to Be Simple) sung in traditional unaccompanied style is the only album available of the Shakers themselves singing their unique music.  Produced by Daniel W. Patterson.  Rounder  1977.  (ROUN0078)
Gentile Words   Randy Folger.  Twenty-six Shaker tunes sung a capella by Randy, music interpreter at Pleasant Hill.
Harp of Joy   Diane Schneider.  Recorded in the Meeting House at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.
Joy of Angels:  Shaker Spirituals for Christmas & the New Year  Vocal Music of the Shaker Communities.  Thirty-eight songs of the season.  Randy Folger, Colleen Liggett, Kathy Leigh Johnson, Mitzie Collins, The Sampler Chorus, and The Eastman Bach Children's Chorus.  Sampler Records Ltd., 1995.  Timing: 71 minutes.  (Sampler 9528)
Love is Little:  A Sampling Shaker Spirituals   Vocal Music of the Shaker Communities.  Thirty-seven songs.  Roger Hall, Mitzie Collins and The Sampler Chorus.  Sampler Records Ltd., 1991.  Timing 53 minutes.  (Sampler 9222)
Music of the Shakers   Folkway Records, 1976.
O Hear Their Music Ring:  The Singers of Lower Shaker Village   Directed by Mary Ann Wilde.  Enfield, New Hampshire.  Thirty-three Songs of the Shakers.  A re-creation of the Shaker musical experience.  IMPACT MEDIA  1992.  (CD5001)
Shaker Road (the quiet in the land)  Domenico de Clario, piano.  CD 1:  Shaker Road: quit existing.  Thirty blindfold piano-performances.  CD 2:  Shaker Road:  the diver's clothes lying empty.  Blindfold improvised piano-performance.  Produced by Domenico de Clario, 1997.
The Shaker Gift of Song   Ann Black Sturm.  Recorded by Musica Antiqua in the Meetinghouse at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, 1980.
Simple Gifts:  Shaker Chants and Spirituals  The Boston Camerata, The Schola Cantorum of Boston and The Shaker Community of Sabbathday Lake, Maine.  Thirty-four songs.  ERATO  1995  Timing  59:53.  (4509-98491-2)
Music Buffs [14] Shaker Songs:  Come to Zion  Hancock Shaker Village.  Northumbega Harmony and singers from Hancock Shaker Village.  This recording is not considered a good recording.  Go to
A Shaker Trilogy:  William Coulter & Barry Phillips.  Instrumental arrangements of Shaker Music.  Gourd Music.:
  • Simple Gifts (GM 106)
  • Tree of Life (GM 114)
  • Music on the Mountains (GM 123)
"South Union Singers." (Phonography) Ruth Morris, Director. South Union, Ky.: Shakertown.
Verdant Groves: A Musical Journey through Four New England Shaker Village The villages are : Watervliet, N.Y., Hancock, MA., Canterbury, N.H., and Enfield, N.H. Debra Spencer, Shelley Phillips and Lars Johannesson. Twenty-four songs. Community Music School of Santa Cruz, Ca. 1998 Timing: 60:33. (CM101)