Shaker music history
Books and articles
CD Reviews


From the Center for American Music Preservation




20th Year Online!

The largest resource site
for music of the American Shakers




Focus for February


Announcement in
the Communal Studies Association newsletter
(Vol. 43, No. 1, Winter 2018):

Read more -- click here








Latest recordings and publications



Two CDs
which have received rave comments!

They would make ideal gifts for any music lover.



Read about this CD and hear sample music

click here


This CD includes Roger Lee Hall's composition,
"Seven Variations on a Shaker Marching Tune"

click here






Blended Together: Interviews with The Shakers





Communal Societies Journal Article -
"Simple Gifts": The Discovery and Popularity of a Shaker Dance Song
(Cover picture by Gail Hall)






















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 composed from the 18th, 19th and 20th 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.

The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing (better known as the Shakers), originated in the area around Manchester, England and they were led by Mother Ann Lee, a charismatic woman who emigrated to the USA with a few Believers and they landed in New York City on August 6, 1774. Two years later, their first settlement was made at Niskayuna (later: Watervliet), New York. Their first organized Shaker community was in 1787 at New Lebanon, New York.

The trials and tribulations of the early Shakers would make a compelling dramatic film or play and their early music would be an added asset. To inquire about such a possible project -- click here

Many of the early Shaker songs were composed by their leaders, such as "Mother Ann's Song" and "Father Jame's Song" and both are included on the Sampler CD, "Love is Little" - A Sampling of Shaker Spirituals.

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 authorities on Shaker music, having researched 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 and writers 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, "Millennial Praise")

There are also many sub-categories of Shaker music, such as: gift songs, dance songs, inspirational and Gospel hymns, millennial anthems, and others.

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

Since it is mostly 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 early Shaker hymn, "The Humble Heart," from the Harvard Shaker community in Massachusetts. Read more about the important hymn on a multi-media DVD -- click here

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 don't always identify the latest Shaker music research.

It is common to identify all Shaker music as being "Traditional." That is inaccurate since many Shaker spirituals have been credited to a Shaker member. One example is the late 19th century song, "Give Good Gifts" by Sister Martha Jane Anderson.
Up until fairly recently this song was called a hymn and identified only as "Traditional."

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. It was 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. Often this song is identified 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. For more about this Shaker dance song -- click here




Their earliest music came from an English folk song tradition. Their first church leaders also wrote songs, like Mother Ann Lee, the spiritual head of their church. Father James Whittaker wrote what is believed to be the first complete Shaker song with words and music in 1787:

Almost all of the early Shaker music was in alphabet music notation, what they called "letteral notation" [shown in the above example]. It is necessary to transcribe their tunes from this notation into conventional music notation. For more about Shaker music notation, see this publication: "Invitation to Zion" - A Shaker Music Guide by Roger L. Hall -- click here

Giving Credit Where It Is Due

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

Two of the most active music researchers and editors of Shaker music have been Roger Lee Hall and Daniel W. Patterson. Both have written an extensive amount about Shaker music and R.L. 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 proper to credit the editors of Shaker music, and if none are mentioned, then the published title of a book or music collection where the music appears.


Please Note:

All the information provided on this website is copyrighted.

Should you wish to publish any original illustrations or information Online,
please give credit to this site: American Music

To write for permission to reproduce any pictures or music for commercial publication -- click here












Shaker Music Triptych

A major resource series on computer discs


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

click here





No. 2: "Give Good Gifts"
Shaker Music in the 20th Century

click here




Great American Folk Song

click here














Shaker Music Scholar Honored in Who's Who

Roger Lee Hall, the distinguished ethnomusicologist and composer, 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 Shaker music research -- click here

See also his music lectures and workshops -- click here












Shaker Music History




Roger Hall presented a paper titled,
"Heavenly Music": Evolution of communal singing at Kirkland, North Union and Zoar
at the Communal Studies Association Annual Conference,
held in Zoar, Ohio, October 5-7, 2017.

To listen to the Shaker song, "Heavenly Music,"
edited by Roger Hall and available on the Sampler CD,
"Joy of Angels" -- click here

The "Heavenly Music" paper is now available
with music examples and sources on this DVD:

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

To read about this DVD -- click here


Shaker Music History


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




























Shaker Song 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 Shaker song broadsides 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: "My Shaker Home" (Sister Lillian Phelps, Canterbury, NH, 1959)
First line: Away from earth's turmoil and cares

No. 6: "Welcome, Welcome" (Enfield, New Hampshire, 1869)
First line: Welcome, welcome precious gospel kindred

No. 7: "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: Interviews with the Shakers

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 background notes by Daniel W. Patterson






Let Zion Move: Music of the Shakers
2 CD set and illustrated booklet,
with background notes by Roger L. Hall



Shaker Music Series CDs


"Celestial Praises" - A Celebration of Shaker Spirituals

25 Premiere Recordings!






"Gentle Words" - A Shaker Music Sampler





Shaker vs. Non-Shaker Tunes




Shaker Music Arrangements
for concerts or other performances



click here






Shaker Music Preservation Archive

click here






The largest collection of recordings

click here




Shaker song used in films

Heavens Above!

click here





The Summer of a Shaker Song - 1967

click here






















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



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 has been updated and expanded 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 the Center for American Music Preservation.

Order music books, CDs or DVDs at the

CAMP 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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