Music on the Mountain - Liner Notes

The Shakers, or as they were formally known, the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, began as a small band of dissenting Protestants, led by Ann Lee, a Manchester blacksmith's daughter. They became known as the "Shaking Quakers" because when they bore witness during worship, their bodies shook and moved. In 1774, Mother Ann and her followers left England and emigrated to Watervliet, New York; from that original settlement, the movement spread and flourished throughout the northeast and as far west as Kentucky and Ohio. A community of Believers still lives, committed to the Shaker life, at Sabbathday Lake, Maine.

Shaker communities withdrew themselves from the World, holding all property in common, living in strict celibacy, with sisters and brethren sharing leadership and responsibilities equally. They strove to put their "hands to work and hearts to God," and their ideal was simplicity.

The following notes on Shaker song and much of the material on the songs themselves are paraphrased from various books by Daniel W. Patterson, author of The Shaker Spiritual and other works, whose generous advice has been invaluable to all three of our Shaker albums.

The Shakers have bequeathed us an enormous treasury of songs -- as many as eight to ten thousand -- some "received" in dream, trance or vision; some consciously composed by their authors. Of course, none of this great body of work was created in a vacuum. The Shakers used traditional song as a musical language with which to create new tunes. A singer could recast a ballad melody into dance-tune form, or clip a piece out of its phrases to make it fit an untraditional stanza, or cap one tune with another of equal length, or simply elaborate a fresh tune from familiar turns and phrases.

Nor did the Shakers' music remain static; as their lives and practices evolved and varied with the passing of time, so did their songs. Different styles and genres of music came and went with each decade. In the earliest years, their congregational music was the "solemn song," generally a ballad tune sung with vocables -- that is, single syllables rather than actual texts. About 1805 these were displaced by long, doctrinal hymns; these in turn gave way around 1820 to shorter hymns of sentiment. In 1810, Believers began to sing short "extra songs" and at about the same time accepted the use of long anthems to open a service. Eventually, Shaker song entered the Victorian age and four-part harmony with piano or organ accompaniment became the norm.

From many eras of the Shakers' history, we draw the melodies for this collection.

Elder Harvey L. Eades was the most prominent leader and musician in the South Union, Kentucky, community. He was born a Shaker at South Union shortly after his parents' conversion. Eades was a serious student of music, contributing theory along with his work as a scribe. He transcribed O Little Children in 1840, and its tune and structure reflects its Appalachian origins.

The Quick Dance was introduced into Shaker worship in 1811 and lasted into the 1870s. The music was lively, and verses replaced the vocables such as "lo lo - dle lo" or "vum vi - ve vum," which were sung to earlier tunes like the Primitive Dance Tune. The Quick Dance tune By Freedom Invited was written in 1835 at the age of seventy-seven by Elder Issachar Bates, who served as a fifer boy at Bunker Hill and went on to become one of the great Shaker missionaries to the West. Its words begin: "By freedom invited & music delighted/I'll skip thro the room like a lamb on the green..."

Like the Primitive Dance Tune , this early Shuffling Song , found in a manuscript at New Lebanon dating from the early 1790s, was hummed, intoned or sung to various syllables. A Cup of Rejoicing was composed by Sallie Eades of South Union in 1846.

Mary Hazard of New Lebanon transcribed many tunes into a hymnal in 1847, including the Primitive Dance Tune , dated 1790. Mary once recorded receiving an anthem from Mother Ann's spirit, which told her "I have reserved this anthem a long time for you, now you must not be covetous with it, but let the brethren and sisters share it with you."

Like Pretty Birds is also found in Mary Hazard's manuscript; its lyrics begin:
Like pretty birds among the trees I will be all in motion,
And sing and skip upon the breeze of love and sweet devotion.
For lo it is a happy time, a time of making merry,
Of heavenly comforts all divine and very cheering, very.

Come Life, Shaker Life , was sung in many communities. The prolific Issachar Bates wrote it and included in it a reference to the second Book of Samuel, 6: 14-16, which the Shakers often quoted: "... And as the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal, Saul's daughter looked through a window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart." Elder Bates' lyric, "I'll be a David/I'll show Michal twice/How he behaved" offers solid Biblical precedent for dancing as worship.

In The Shaker Spiritual Daniel Patterson identifies March #63 with an Irish air called "Sweet Cootehill Town," which was usually sung at gatherings of friends on the evening before the departure of emigrants for America. We call this Shaker March the 'Parting Glass' March because its melody is so similar to that of the folk tune of the same name.

Isaac Trotter of Union Village enclosed the tune Music on the Mountains in an 1859 letter to Isaac Youngs as a special memento. Youngs' contributions to Shaker music were many: he compiled many collections of songs and it was his persistence and tact that persuaded his brother and sister musicians to use a single simple notational system. Brought to the Shakers by his father at the age of six months, he also served the Believers as a tailor, teacher, joiner, clockmaker, mechanic and scribe.

Good Evening My Friends , a South Union Quick Dance and the Mount Lebanon March can both be found in Gleanings from Old Shaker Journals, published in 1916 by Miss Clara Endicott Sears, whose efforts to preserve the Shakers and their role in America's heritage included founding The Fruitlands Museums at Harvard, Massachusetts. Shaker scholar and musicologist Roger Hall edited Miss Sears' compilation of 35 Shaker spirituals, which he published in 1982 as The Happy Journey (see bibliography), and this is where we found these beautiful tunes.

In 1786, Yankee divine Ezra Stiles reported on his visit to a Shaker service: after dancing, the worshipers stood in a semicircle and "sang in a mixture of words & unknown sounds as of words, in a pretty solemn & melodious Tone for five Minutes..." The Shakers called them "Solemn Songs," and the "unknown" language of their verses was received as part of the gift. The Canterbury Solemn Song was received there and recorded in a book begun by Lucy Williams in 1830 and finished by M.E. Hastings in 1861.

Heavy Cross is reported to have been sung at Canterbury in 1847 by an American Indian spirit who was "taken in" or channelled by a Shaker brother or sister -- hence its ungrammatical English: "Me bless the cross, it bring me love/It fits me for de shiny world./Altho' to lift it heavy be, What be beneath it comfort Me." The Mount Lebanon Solemn Song was composed in 1838 and recorded there in a manuscript by Henry DeWitt.

Elder Harvey L. Eades wrote the first of these two South Union Marches in 1831, when he was twenty-four. The other, "I Will Be Marching Onward," was recorded at South Union circa 1840.

Between 1837 and 1850, during a a period of intense revivalism known as "Mother's Work," there was an extraordinary outpouring of "gift songs," often highly irregular in form -- songs with rhapsodic melodic structures and texts wholly or partly in unknown tongues or pidgin English. Patterson writes of "the little shepherdess" whose spirit visited several communities during the period of Mother's Work, who in life and the afterlife was a keeper of sheep. The Saviour's Watchword was probably one of her gifts given at Canterbury. We first learned the song from the recorded singing of Sister R. Mildren Barker of Alfred, and later Sabbathday Lake, Maine.

John Lockwood composed The Burning Day in the community at Sodus, New York in 1835. He came the Shakers in 1815 at the age of 24, with his wife and two small children. He wrote "I found a lack in all other Religions. Quakerism, Presbyterianism, Methodism, & all other isma were nothing to me. They all seemed like chaff, for those that had them, did not lead any better lives than I did, & some of them not so good ... But the Testimony of the Gospel showed me how to govern Nature's strongest propensity & travel away from it .. when I heard & understood it, it looked so reasonable that I set out as a volunteer to obey it."

In his account of the Canterbury cleansing ceremony in 1844, Elder Henry Blinn tells how "at midnight ... every sleeper, throughout the whole house, was aroused" by the song of a company of Sisters who passed through every room. "This midnight call," he continues, "had a strange effect upon most minds, by being so suddenly awakened from a deep sleep." The Ancients Song of Mourning was received at Lebanon in 1844, to accompany a similar cleansing ceremony. Its lyric begins: "We will walk with Mother & mourn/We will walk with Mother & weep/We will bow in solemn pray'r with her while Zions children sleep..."

A Step Tune accompanied a dance that featured walking and shuffling rather than skipping. This one was recorded at New Lebanon, New York in 1858.

A spirit known as "Laughing John" manifested through several Shaker mediums at New Lebanon in the 1840s. Henry Blinn tells us he "was not especially of a mirthful mind ... the laugh, however, as silly as it may have been, was passed from one to another, till the whole body, young and old, would burst out with one merry peal of laughter" -- and he gave the community the delightful Who Will Bow and Bend Like the Willow .


Andrews, Edward Deming, The Gift to Be Simple , Dover Publications, New York, N.Y., 1962.

Early Shaker Spirituals , (recording) The United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Maine; notes by Daniel W. Patterson; Rounder Records 0078, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1976.

Music of the Shakers (recording), Folkways Records FH 5378, 1976.
O, Hear Their Music Ring , (recording) Museum of Lower Shaker Village, Enfield, N.H., 1989.
Patterson, Daniel W., The Shaker Spiritual , Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1979.

_______, Singing in the Valley , published privately for the Annual Meeting of The Friends of the Shakers, Sabbathday Lake, Maine, 1978.

The Shaker Gift of Song (recording), Musica Antiqua, Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, 1980.

Shakers World , a quarterly journal, Alana and K.C. Parkinson, eds., (formerly The Shaker Messenger) , Manchester, CT.

Stein, Stephen J., The Shaker Experience in America , Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1992.

Sturm, Ann Black, ed., The Shaker Gift of Song , Berea College Press, 1981.

Von Kolken, Diana, ed., The Shaker Messenger , a quarterly journal, Holland, Michigan.

The drawing on the cover, The Tree of Life , by Hannah Cahoon, was first seen by the artist in a vision she described as "a draft of a beautiful tree pencil'd on a large sheet of white paper ... I have since learned that this tree grows in the Spirit Land ... I entreated Mother Ann to tell me the name of this tree: which she did by moving the hand of a medium to write twice over, Your Tree is the Tree of Life."

The Tree appeared in a vision to James Whittaker, one of the original Believers, in which they were called to leave their homes and come to America. The Tree of Life became a symbol of the Shakers' unity.

Return to Music on the Mountains.