Recorded August 25-29, 1994 at Meeting House, Shaker Village, Poland Spring, Maine

Erato CD 4509-98491-2 Reissued by Warner Classics as Apex CD 2564 60367-2

"It's one of the most remarkable recordings of vocal music I've ever heard "-- Weinstein, The Boston Phoenix


Anne Azéma and Margaret Swanson, sopranos;
Elizabeth Anker, contralto;
William Hite, tenor;
Daniel McCabe, baritone;
Joel Frederiksen, bass

Frederick Jodry, director


direction: Joel Cohen

This recording was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the
Arts, a federal agency that supports the visual, literary and performing arts
to benefit all Americans.

Special thanks to Roger Hall, Ann Gilbert, Daniel Gustin and the Tanglewood Festival.

Simple Gifts
notes by the Sabbathday Lake Shakers and Joel Cohen

I. The Shakers: Who are they?
The United Society of Believers, commonly known as the Shakers, have best been described as a Protestant Monastic Community. An old hymn of ours states "at Manchester in England this blessed fire began" and so it did in 1747. The first Believers had come out of the formalized, rational, and often cold life of the Church of England. They sought to imitate the primitive Church in all that they did. To this nascent group came a highly spiritual and gifted woman named Ann Lee. By 1770 she had become the leader ofthe Church and was acknowledged by the members to be their spritual Mother in Christ. Even today, Shakers still refer to her as Mother Ann in remembrance of her special call and dedication to God.

In the year 1774 there was a "gift"for those who felt able to come to America to preach the Gospel. In May of that year nine members, including Mother Ann, embarked on the ship Mariah for a two-month voyage to America. They landed in New York City on August 6. [Today we continue to commemorate this event with a special worship service]. Several members went up the Hudson River to Niskayuna, just outside Albany. They purchased a tract of land and immediately set to building a home in the wilderness.

The Shakers, being newly arrived from England, and pacifists, kept a low profile. There was a religious revival in progress in the surrounding district and soon the Shakers were discovered. Mother Ann and the Elders decided to make a missionary tour. Due to the charisma of Mother Ann and the preaching of Father James and Father William, many converts were made. Mother Ann preached a way of life that was a living theology. There seemed to be even more persecutors than converts. The brutal and frequent attacks took their toll. Father William Lee [Mother Ann's natural brother] expired on July 21, 1784. In less than two months, Mother Ann herself died. For the next three years, Father James would head the Church. He wore himself out and died in 1787, leaving the church in the hands of the American converts.

Father Joseph Meacham and Mother Lucy Wright were chosen to lead the Church. It was under these two most capable leaders that the Societies were called into "Gospel Order." Community life as theyenvisioned it requires a person to live their life based on the life and teachings of Christ: to be celibate, to confess their sins, pratice a community of goods, and be pacifists. From the beginning there has been equality for all, regardless of race or gender.

The administration of Father Joseph and Mother Lucy marked the greatest period of growth for the Shakers. At the time of Mother Lucy's death in 1821 there were 18 communities stretching from Maine to Kentucky. The following four decades were ones of stability and, for most of the Communities, prosperity. Peaking at five thousand members, the Shakers were never a large religion, but we have affected the "World" greatly by our technology, ingenuity, and reliable products.

Following the Civil War, there came a time of decline for many of the Societies, and a gradual retrenchment began to occur. At the close of the century Communities were forced to close because of debts and lack of membership. Thankfully, the Maine communities at Alfred and Sabbathday Lake were relatively isolated. They began to enjoy their greatest times of stabilized membership and financial prosperity. Most importantly, when the other Societies were abandoning the tenets of the faith, the Maine Shakers continued to practice the traditional way of life.

Central to the life has been the act of worship. Of all the various "gifts" received by the Brothers and Sisters, songs and singing have remained a constant. Sister Mildred Barker was often quoted as saying, "there is a Shaker song for every occasion." It would be hard to argue with Sister Mildred in that there are over ten thousand songs extant. Songs are sung during the various worship services each day, and continue to be handed down to the newer members by the older ones. This has been our way for over two hundred years.

Today, only the place we call Chosen Land is still a functioning Community. We might be few in number, but we look with hope to the future knowing that God will provide; She always has.

The Sabbathday Lake Shakers
Poland Spring, Maine

II. A approach to Shaker song
Shaker song, despite growing interest in the Shaker movement, remains virtually unknown to the general public. Reductionistically, one tune (admittedly, a beautiful one) has come to symbolise all of Shakerdom. Even that tune, Simple Gifts, is most often heard in reworkings, ranging in context and quality from the brilliant (Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring) to the downright tacky (television commercials for expensive automobiles). And yet, Shaker music is so very much more! The large, mainly unpublished body of Shaker song contains untold treasures; it is important as music, as spiritual testimony, and as American cultural history. The repertoire fairly cries out to be heard on its own terms, in a simple, non-exploitative context.

We can never know exactly how the nineteenth-century Shakers performed their music. Some aspects of their style have surely been lost to later generations. But the musicians of this recording, both Shaker and non-Shaker, have aimed to shape their performances along traditional lines, according to the precepts and the spirit of Shaker practice. Early Shaker song, like medieval Gregorian chant, was to be done in unison, by voices only, without instrumental accompaniment. Shaker melodies of the early period are noticeably "archaic;" they can and do sound "older" than their dates of composition would appear to indicate. The influence of English folksong is immediately evident, and there are even reminiscences within the Shaker repertoire of medieval and Renaissance song style. Many songs were composed by, or "given to," specific individuals in the community. Some, like the dance tunes, were sung by small groups of singers during the worship service, as the main body of believers joined in the dance. Others were meant for performance by the whole community. We have attempted to vary the dispositions and groupings of voices across this recorded program without departing from the basic tenets of Shaker performance practice.

The Shakers carefully preserved thousands of their songs in various kinds of special musical notation ("normal" staff notation, along with part-singing and instrumental playing, did not come into general use until after 1870). The library of the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine, contains extensive music holdings, including some important manuscripts by Elder Otis Sawyer, a key figure in the history of Maine Shakerdom and a fine musician. Many of the songs we perform were transcribed during the spring of 1994 from original Shaker manuscript and printed sources; a large number of these from Elder Otis' lovingly preserved copy books. This scribe/editor, who worked on song transcriptions in Maine for a number of happy days as Elder Otis' framed photographic portrait looked down at him from the facing wall, felt privileged to be helping these tunes along on their way to a deserved rebirth. It seemed that the beautiful inspirations of Elder Otis and the early Shakers were preparing to speak to the world once again, and there was a rightness to that.

But the archives do not tell the whole story. Shakerism is also a living religion, with a continuous musical tradition. Although the early Shaker "letteral" notation was abandoned over a century ago, many older Shaker songs have been preserved in communal memory at Sabbathday Lake, and are still being sung by the Shakers of today. My deepest thanks go to the members of the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community, for warm hospitality, good advice, unstinting project support, and musical inspiration.

Joel Cohen

Suggested further reading: Daniel W. Patterson, The Shaker Spiritual
(Princeton, 1979).

Regular contributions by Roger Hall to the periodical The Shaker

Notes on the Songs

JC indicates a note by Joel Cohen; FC a note by Sister Frances Carr

I. Followers of the Lamb
1. Come life, Shaker life Elder Issachar Bates (1758-1837)
JC: According to Daniel Patterson, this dance song, still present in Shaker oral tradition, dates from 1835. The scriptural reference ( in the second book of Samuel) is to David's dancing "before the Lord with all his might." FC: This song was often sung in Meeting to remind the Community of the vow of celibacy.

2. In yonder valley Father James Whittaker (1751-1787) Sabbathday Lake, Me.
JC: According to Roger Hall, this is the oldest surviving Shaker song with text. Father James, one of the small founding group who travelled with Anne Lee to America from Manchester, England, was a visionary and a powerful preacher. This version of the tune and text comes from a manuscript copied at Sabbathday Lake in mid-19th century by Elder Otis Sawyer.

3. Virgins clothed in a clean #E6DDCC garment Sabbathday Lake, Me.
JC: From an early (1830's) manscript tunebook at the Sabbathday Lake library, a source filled with many vigourous dance tunes.

4. Mother Elder Richard McNemar (1770-1839) Sabbathday Lake, Me.
JC: A ballad recounting the Shakers' history by one of the most important figures in early 19th century Shakerdom. FC: This is always sung in Meeting on the 6th of August (the anniversary of the Shakers' arrival in America, in 1774).

5. Father James' Song Father James Whittaker Harvard, Massachusetts
The manuscript copy at Sabbathday Lake contains the rubric: "The above song was sung by Father James after he was whip'd at Harvard." The reference is to one of the most famous episodes of the Shakers' persecution in America, and the beautiful, wordless melody takes on an even stronger signifigance in this context.

6. Followers of the Lamb Sister Clarissa Jacobs (1833-1905) New Lebanon, New York
FC: A general favorite with the "World," as well as the Community. The song is often sung to introduce a gift of joy.

II. Bearing the Cross
7. Mother Ann's Song Mother Ann Lee (1736-1784) Enfield, Connecticut
JC: Like all the earliest Shaker melodies, this one, from the founder of the Shaker movement, is wordless. Since these earliest tunes were only written down in the nineteenth century, after the death of the founders, and since they seem to reflect a relatively free, rhapsodic style, there are many variant readings in the manuscript sources.

8. I have a soul to be saved or lost Enfield, Connecticut
JC: "Bearing the cross" was the term Shakers used to refer to their vow of celibacy.

9. Heavenly comfort Canterbury, N.H.
JC: From "A Sacred Repository of Anthems and Hymns " a printed hymnbook (1852) containing relatively lengthy and complex pieces, comes this beautiful hymn about the Shaker vows.

10. A companion to stiff
JC: "Old Stiff" refers to the proud, rigid self whom each Shaker strives to cast out of his or her being. Gestures and foot-stomping might accompany songs of this type.

11. Pinch'd up, nipp'd up
JC: The struggle for simplicity included strictures against personal adornment and vanity, as this little song indicates.

12. I will fight and never slack South Union, Kentucky
JC: According to Patterson, "Warring" excercises, based on the heavenly combats described in the Book of Revelations, were common at Shaker meetings through the 1860's.

III. Visions and warnings
13. Celestial choir Canterbury, N.H.
J.C: Many songs express the Shakers' firm belief in the world of spirits. The source ("A Sacred Repository") ends each strophe of this hymn with the "Shaker shout," a now-lost tradition we have tried to re-imagine in the present performance.

14. Holy Angel New Lebanon, N.Y.
JC: The source is "A Sacred Repository; "given by Mother Lucy for the Holy Anointed." Like many songs that came into the Shaker communities in the 1840's, this one is attributed to other-worldly inspiration. In form this work is an anthem, containing a series of short, contrasting musical sections, each one with new melodic content.

15. The lark "The Shepherdess" Sabbathday Lake, Me.
JC: The Shepherdess was one of the spirits who inspired many Shaker songs during the period of visions known as "Mother's Work" (roughly, 1837-1847). The songs attributed to her share common characteristics of lightness, grace, and pastoral imagery.

16. Nightingale's song "The Shepherdess" Sabbathday Lake, Me.
JC: Like the preceding piece, and like several others included in our program, this one was notated by Elder Otis Sawyer of Sabbathday Lake in one of two large, important manscripts that preserve hundreds of songs from the 1840's.

17. Holy Order Song Sabbathday Lake, Me.
JC: A wordless dance song from Elder Otis' collection. The Holy Order was a sacred dance, received by revelation to Father Joseph Meacham in 1787 or 1786, and preserved for generations in Shaker worship.

18. Learned of Angel Sabbathday Lake, Me.
A rare, and beautiful, example of Shaker part-writing, notated by Elder Otis in inks of three different colors, one for each of the voice parts. The tune, in the middle voice, is related to the famous "Simple Gifts."

19. Laughing John's Interrogatory Canterbury, New Hampshire
JC: Laughing John was an African-American spirit, familiar to the Shakers of New Hampshire and Maine. FC: This song is particularly appropriate when visitors in Meeting seem to be bound by a spirit of stiffness.

20. I'll beat my drum as I march along Jane Sutton, Pleasant Hill, Kentucky
JC: Jane Sutton received this tune at the age of sixteen, and it contains more than a touch of adolescent sauciness. Patterson points out that the cadences are borrowed from "Yankee Doodle." The musical instruments often described in these gift songs were, of course, imaginary; we have taken the liberty of adding some distant drum-taps to our performance.

21. Mother's Warning Sabbathday Lake, Me.
JC: Elder Otis notes that this was "given by Mother Ann August 1st 1846"

22. The Solemn Bell Sabbathday Lake, Me.
JC: "Given by the Angel of Lamentation August 1st 1845; " This follows Mother's Warning on the manuscript page.

23. Mother's Cup of Tribulation Sabbathday Lake, Me.
JC: A simple but very moving melody. Anne Lee's tribulations and persecutions were seen by the Shakers as a testament to the Christ spirit in her.

24. Sad Days Alfred, Me.
JC: Rubric in the manuscript source: "Given on a sensation of the presence of Mother Anne, January 1846." One of the most eloquent and touching of all American spirituals, rediscovered in a manuscript from the Alfred, Maine community, now preserved at Sabbathday Lake.

25. Encouragement Sabbathday Lake, Me.
JC: From Elder Otis' collection. Many Shaker songs have a texted beginning and a worldess conclusion. This one, in addition, has a slow-to-fast progression somewhat reminiscent of the paired dances (Pavane-Galliard) of Elizabethan England.

IV. The valley of love
26. Verdant valley Sabbathday Lake, Me.
JC: The Shakers chose beautiful sites for their villages, and cultivated their land with love. Their images of spiritual fulfillment echo their attachment to the land and to growing things.

27. In yonder valley (reprise) Father James Whittaker
JC: In this rendition of Father James' song, we perform the melody and tune as the Shakers sing it today. FC: A favorite in the Community as it points out the need for union, one of our cardinal principles. We always sing it on the first day of Spring.

28. Solemn Song Canterbury, N. H.
JC:The early Shakers called wordless tunes received by divine inspiration "Solemn Songs." Tradition has it that this one was sung by Mother Anne and her followers.

29. Turn to the right New Lebanon, N.Y.
JC: Shaker "turning" denotes a turning of the spirit, but also a whirling of the body. FC: We learned this song as young people and we find it to be a good song to teach to children when we do a Shaker music program in the schools. We use motions with the song.

30. O will you sing another song Sabbathday Lake, Me.
JC: A fast dance-song from the 1830's. The exhortation to be as simple children is familiar as one of Mother Ann's teachings.

31.The Spiritual sailor Elder Richard McNemar
JC: One of the few Shaker songs to have "crossed over" into the larger American folk-hymn tradition, "The Spiritual sailor" was included in reprints of The Sacred Harp until the most recent, 1991 edition of that songbook. Camerata and Schola perform this song with the rough-edged, vigorous harmonies of the Sacred Harp setting. FC: This was taught to us by Sister Mildred Barker, who learned it in her childhood at Alfred.

32. Mother has come Sister Paulina Springer (1887) Alfred, Me.
JC: With its imaginary horn-calls, Mother Anne's "beautiful song" evokes the English forest as a prefiguration of the other world. FC: We can never sing this song without thinking of Sister Mildred. This was her favorite song, and when we sing it we bring Sister closer to us.

33. Holy mother's protecting chain Canterbury, New Hampshire
JC: From "A Sacred Repository," a song of extraordinary power. The syllables of the refrain, like many such in the Shaker repertoire, are in the language of the spirits.

34. Simple gifts Elder Joseph Brackett (1797-1882) Alfred, Me.
JC: According to tradition, and long before it became a key element of a secular ballet, Elder Joseph would sing and dance this song "with his coat tails flying." FC: Although the World has made the song famous, we feel troubled that, in its fame, it is taken so lightly. To Believers it holds a real message reminding us that we do have to come down to "the place just right" in order to live out Mother's Gospel.

These texts are © by Joel Cohen and the Shakers. Please contact us for permission to reproduce.

Track List

  • I. Followers of the Lamb. Come life, Shaker life (0:42) -- In yonder valley (1:40) -- Virgins clothed in a clean #E6DDCC garment (1:21) -- Mother (4:28) -- Father James' song (1:36) -- Followers of the Lamb (1:26).
  • II. Bearing the Cross. Mother Ann's song (2:19) -- I have a soul to be saved or lost (1:50) -- Heavenly comfort (2:26) -- A companion to stiff (0:59) -- Pinch'd up, nip'd up (0:34) -- I will fight and never slack (1:31).
  • III. Visions and warnings. Celestial choir (2:11) -- Holy angel (3:32) -- The lark (0:58) -- Nightingale's song (1:21) -- Holy Order song (1:24) -- Learned of angel (1:35) -- Laughing John's interrogatory (0:52) -- I'll beat my drum as I march along (1:14) -- Mother's warning (0:45) -- The solemn bell (1:32) -- Mother's cup of tribulation (3:23) -- Sad days (2:11) -- Encouragement (2:31).
  • IV. The Valley of love. Verdant valley (1:10) -- In yonder valley (reprise) (1:29) -- Solemn song (1:28) -- Turn to the right (0:44) -- O will you sing another song (1:25) -- The spiritual sailor (3:21) -- Mother has come (0:41) -- Holy Mother's protecting chain (3:11) -- Simple gifts (1:02).

Transcriptions of the songs by:

Anne Azéma (numbers 15, 16, 26)
Joel Cohen (numbers 1-4, 9, 13, 14, 17-19, 21-25, 33, 34)
Harold Cook (numbers 10, 11)
Roger Hall (numbers 4, 6)
Daniel W. Patterson (numbers 7, 8, 12, 20)

Numbers 1, 4, 6, 19, 27, 29, 32 and 34 are in the current oral tradition
of the Sabbathday Lake Shakers.

Coming Soon...