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Simple Gifts: Shaker Chants and Spirituals

4.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 5, 1995
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com

Joel Cohen spent countless days in the library at the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine, transcribing dozens of tunes from among thousands of archived chants and spirituals. Many more of these wonderful tunes were recalled from memory by the community's few resident Shakers--and Cohen and his ensemble, joined by several Shaker singers, made this recording, which deserves to be heard by everyone who loves songs and singing. --David Vernier

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Come Life, Shaker Life
  2. In Yonder Valley
  3. Virgins Clothed In A Clean White Garment
  4. Mother
  5. Father James' Song
  6. Followers Of The Lamb
  7. Mother Ann's Song
  8. I Have A Soul To Be Saved Or Lost
  9. Heavenly Comfort
  10. A Companion To Stiff
  11. Pinch'd Up, Nip'd Up
  12. I Will Fight And Never Slack
  13. Celestial Choir
  14. Holy Angel
  15. The Lark
  16. Nightingale's Song
  17. Holy Order Song
  18. Learned Of Angel
  19. Laughing John's Interrogatory
  20. I'll Beat My Drum As I March Along
  21. Mother's Warning
  22. The Solemn Bell
  23. Mother's Cup of Tribulation
  24. Sad Days
  25. Encouragement
  26. Verdant Valley
  27. In Yonder Valley (Reprise)
  28. Solemn Song
  29. Turn To The Right
  30. O Will You Sing Another Song
  31. The Spiritual Sailor
  32. Mother Has Come
  33. Holy Mother's Protecting Chain
  34. Simple Gifts


Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 5, 1995)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Alliance
  • ASIN: B000005EDQ
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,582 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
It's funny how we often draw the wrong conclusions about people of the past, by looking at evidence of their physical lives. Shaker furniture and room design often convey ascetic austerity, and repressed emotions. And then... there is the music! Here one realizes that Shakers were deeply spiritual people and found great joy in their music and dance. The Boston Camerata really succeeds in recreating the atmosphere of a Shaker meeting hall, with music that captures the power of communal gatherings. There are reflective melodies here, but also energetic "hand-clapping, foot stomping" chants. The result is that, in listening to this CD, you are likely to "see" the Shakers in a new light. If you like early American historical music, or just appreciate the power of shared hymns, you will truly appreciate this wonderful performance.
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Format: Audio CD
This album is sung by professional singers with some Shaker community participation. This contrasts with the folk recordings of Shakers alone - or of music groups retaining the Shaker tradition. Just as the Boston Camarata recordings of Billings, Dear etc. helped revive an interest in early American music of what became the shaped note tradition, so this album should revive interest in the American Shaker tradition.
The music is folksy - simple and direct - and by its style directly reflects the Shaker philosophy of life. The pieces are short - a disadvantage for those tunes you love. Simple Gifts is the best known work - but you are apt to find other pieces you like as much. Come Life, Shaker Life is one of my favorites.
This album is a must for anyone interested in Shakers, early American music, or American folk music. It will whet your appetite for the albums put out by Shaker musuems - but the professional performance is a better starting point for most people.
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Format: Audio CD
Simple Gifts from Copland's Appalachian Spring is my favorites. I bought this CD since I wanted to listen to the original Simple Gifts, Shaker Hymn. Wow, I love this Simple Gifts, too! Powerful and simple a cappella chorus. I never thought original has lyrics. I love the lyrics. Other songs are also beautiful.
The CD comes with thick program notes of 63 pages, which outlined short history of the Shakers and lyrics of whole 34 songs in English, French and German.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful recording. From the time that I purchased it, it quickly became a favourite of mine.
This music is rather simple, yet it has tremendous beauty. From the wordless songs to the famous "Simple Gifts", it is a recording to be treasured.
For those with an interest in early American music, I recommend this recording highly.
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Format: Audio CD
My interest in seeking Shaker music was professional - I wanted something to use for my church choir's next big performance. What I found in this collection of Shaker music was that, but much more.

Without their music, the Shakers can seem quaint and faintly silly - the odd maiden aunts and uncles with peculiar hobbies (making chairs and living without modern conveniences) and -- nutty bears, indeed! -- living in celibate, and therefore non-regenerative communities.

But their music is something else --earnest, longing, full of commitment and a sense of their own story. And tuneful! You don't have to be a Shaker to appreciate the visual poetry of "Virgins cloth'd in a clean white garment," or hear the deep commitment to resist sin in "I will fight, fight, and never slack until I overcome the enemy," or the desperate longing for eternal life evoked by "In yonder valley there flows sweet union." These are songs written for and performed by people who lived a most austere form of spirituality.

There are those who criticize Joel Cohen for having embellished some pieces by adding, for instance, a drone that is not attested in the literature. By I certainly praise Cohen and the Boston Camarata for having brought these wonderful pieces to my attention. It is icing on the cake that a few of the remaining Shakers of the Sabbathday Lake, Maine community chose to join their voices to this effort. To sing is to pray twice, and this CD certainly delivers on that promise, plus providing insights into an obscure but enduring corner of the American religious landscape.
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Format: Audio CD
Only four Shakers remain and Sabbathday Lake in Maine houses them all. They range in age from 43 to 80. Given this, without fresh converts the Shakers face extinction. Barred by law from adopting orphans (since 1960, religious groups cannot adopt, only individuals or couples can), the twentieth century saw a steep decline in their numbers. Thanks to religious revivals, back in the nineteenth century their numbers swelled to over 5,000. But by 1920 a mere dozen remained. Though the small community hopes, and continually prays, for new recruits - which must come in the form of consenting adults - their values clash with modern America. Which was, of course, the original point. The largest hurdle for membership: total celibacy. No procreation, nothing. And, as we all know, twenty-first century American culture is anything but celibate.

Shakers remain not only celibate, but ascetic. Though not to the level of the Amish or the Luddites. Sabbathday Lake has a website, a car, telephones, and internet connections. They also don't hermit themselves from society. They play an active role in it. So throw away any notions of Puritanical witch hunters. Shakers laugh, socialize, read, dance, and, as this CD aptly demonstrates, they sing their ascetic hearts out.

The music, largely resembling English folk music, rhapsodizes about Shaker values, history, and vows. All songs but one get performed a capella. Some emphasize the lyrics with stomping and clapping. Permeating the set is the figure of "Mother," or Ann Lee. She helped found the Shakers in the eighteenth century and all faithful remain her spiritual heir (after Jesus Christ, of course). Early followers faced persecution, but found faith in Mother's actions and example.
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