Welcome back to Homegrown Plus! We took a break from presenting 2021 concerts to feature our 2022 series premieres. In 2023 we’re back with a series that includes both live concerts and online video premieres, which gives us the blog space to finish up that 2021 series of Homegrown Plus! (Find the whole Homegrown Plus series here!)
Like other blogs in the Homegrown Plus series, this one includes a concert video and a video interview with one of the singers, plus links and connections to Library of Congress collections. However, this interview was extensive, and therefore we’re presenting it in two separate videos! We hope that together the videos will give you a deeper understanding of the tradition of Shaker Spirituals.
The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, more commonly known as the Shakers, was founded circa 1747 in England. The Shakers emigrated from England and settled in Revolutionary colonial America in 1774. From their inception, the Shakers composed thousands of songs, dances, hymns, and anthems, which were an important part of Shaker worship.
Shakers’ earliest music was shared by word of mouth and letters circulated among their villages. Many Believers wrote out the lyrics in their own manuscript hymnals. In 1813, they published Millennial Praises, a hymnal containing only lyrics. Other Shaker scribes used a form of music notation called the letteral system, using letters of the alphabet for notes, along with a simple notation of conventional rhythmic values.
Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in Maine, established at the height of the Shaker movement in the United States in the 18th century, is the last active Shaker community in the United States, and has three members as of 2021. Brother Arnold Hadd, one of those members, actively carries on the 200-plus-year oral tradition of singing Shaker songs.
Brother Arnold has been collaborating with American composer Kevin Siegfried, whose choral arrangements of Shaker songs are frequently performed by modern vocal ensembles. While staying true to the essential nature of the original songs, Siegfried’s choral arrangements serve to bring the music to a wider audience. Siegfried also does archival research and work in the Sabbathday Lake Library and sees his choral arrangements as a form of musical stewardship, helping to safeguard and bring awareness to this important American musical tradition.
We hope this concert offers a glimpse into the transmission, history, and meaning of Shaker song, and Brother Arnold’s relationship with Kevin Siegfried. In the concert, Brother Arnold demonstrates songs as he sings them, and Radiance, a Seattle, Washington, choral ensemble, performed Siegfried’s arrangements. Find it in the first player below!
In the first part of the oral history, Kevin asks Brother Arnold about his spiritual journey in becoming a Shaker 45 years ago, about the history of the Shaker community in America, about the principles behind the movement, and especially about the hymns for which the Shakers are so well known. See their conversation in the second player:
[Transcript of Interview Part 1]
In the second part of the oral history interview, Kevin Siegfried asked Brother Arnold Hadd to delve into the main Shaker repertory of songs, some of which are unique to the Alfred and Sabbathday Lake communities. Brother Arnold also gives specific details about some of the people who have given life to Shaker songs and helped bring them down the years to be sung today. Find part 2 in the third player:
[Transcript of Interview Part 2]
Collection Connections and Links
Here you’ll find links relating to our hosts and performers, as well as links to Library of Congress collection items relating to Shaker hymnody.
Tom Davenport and Folkstreams contributed archival footage from one of their films to the concert film. Visit their site for more folklore films at this link.
An example of a Shaker hymn book (ca. 1833) that appears to be the work of Elder Richard McNemar is available at this link from the Library’s Music Division. These songs appear to be sung or verse sermons, rather than typical of congregational hymns.
The Library of Congress Music Division also has manuscripts in its collections with Shaker Music transcriptions. See one in the catalog at this link.
AFC’s Phillips Barry collection of New England ballads and folksongs, 1930-1936, consists mainly of cylinder recordings. It includes Shaker hymns and airs from Maine. See its catalog record here.
Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. The idea of the Homegrown Plus series is to gather concert videos, video interviews with the musicians, and connections to Library of Congress collections together in one place for our subscribers. (Find the whole Homegrown Plus series here!)
For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress.