"My Shaker Home"
A Memorial Tribute to Sister Lillian Phelps
In March of 1972, I spent two eventful days interviewing
the last two Shaker musicians at Canterbury, New Hampshire.
One of the highlights of the interviews was
when Eldress Bertha Lindsay sang and Sister Lillian Phelps played the piano.
Eldress Bertha had just lost her sight and
Sister Lillian was then 95 years old
and yet she could still play the piano and
knew every Shaker song or hymn from memory.
They were both amazing examples of musical longevity.
Excerpts from my 1972 interviews are included on this 2 CD recording,
Let Zion Move: Music of the Shakers (Rounder Records, 1999)
One of the songs that was sung during that interview was "Let Mine Be The Hand" composed by Sister Lillian Phelps in 1914. It was sung by Eldress Bertha Lindsay and her version was slightly different from the original handwritten copy of 1914. Here are the original words:
Let mine be the hand to reach out
to the wayward,
Let mine be the voice to speak
courage and hope,
Let mine be the heart that loves to
The needy to whom God
has called me to walk.
Far away from the touch of the
selfish and worldly,
The needs of my church claim my life,
yea my all,
O humble my spirit, O chasten and refine
‘Till with heart and with soul
I respond to thy call.
Source: Canterbury Shaker Village,
Archives, #939 Box 60, f. 9.
Sister Lillian also composed the music to a hymn, "Tarry Not,"
published in the last printed Shaker hymnal of 1908.
Here is her picture...
Sister Lillian Phelps (1876-1973)
Canterbury, New Hampshire
© photograph by Gail Hall, 1972
In 2013, I included one of her songs
for a new CD recording titled,
Celestial Praises - A Celebration of Shaker Spirituals.
For that CD, I arranged Sister Lillian's song, "My Shaker Home,"
for two vocalists and piano with two violins.
It is believed to be
the last known original Shaker song
with words and music
and it was composed in July of 1959.
The "Celestial Praises" CD is dedicated to Sister Lillian Phelps and Sister Mildred Barker. They both are examples of the dedication to their Shaker faith through their music.
-- Roger Lee Hall
Excerpts of the interview with Eldress Bertha Lindsay and
Sister Lillian Phelps are included
on this CD:
Blended Together: Interviews with The Shakers