The Living Church
Consisting of almost 10,000 songs still in existence,
Shaker music has remained a hidden treasure to most of us, yet is a major
part of American folk music. Kevin Siegfried has given us a wonderful gift
in collecting and arranging these songs. Including with the song texts are
wonderful notes for each song and a bibliography, useful to those who wish
to know more.
The Shaker themes of beauty, simplicity and utility are
inherent in the songs as well as these arrangements. In seeking to remain
separate from the world, the original music uses no harmony or
instrumental accompaniment. In his choral arrangements, Kevin Siegfried
has maintained the integrity of the music with spare harmonies beautifully
in keeping with the simple nature of the melodies.
The performance of the Tudor Choir equally embodies the
simplicity and beauty of the songs. The unison singing is sometimes
energetic, sometimes delicate. The lovely shaping of phrases, impeccable
intonation and unadorned, clean sound allow the words and music to become
the Shaker “prayer language”, to free the mind from the world, to
visit the soul.
American Shaker Music
Kevin Siegfried's arrangements are respectful and
tasteful. I recommend this CD to anyone who wants to hear what can be done
with these beautiful Shaker melodies.
The Tudor Choir performs the music with great clarity
and sensitivity, under Doug Fullington's fine direction. Their
performances reflect both the joy and contemplation of Shaker religious
A very appealing CD, with outstanding choral
performances, and an attractive album design.
It’s nice to see that some of the America’s early
music has caught the attention of the recording labels lately. There have
been two excellent recordings of Shaker music by Joel Cohen and the Boston
Camerata: Simple Gifts (Erato 4509-98491-2) and the revelatory I
(Glissando 779020-2). This new recording by the excellent by little-known
Tudor Choir is a stunning addition to the repertoire and a midyear
candidate for my 2001 Want List.
This recording triumphs on every level. Cohen’s discs
certainly offered some excellent singing, but Doug Fullington’s Tudor
Choir boasts a lush tonal quality that produces results reminiscent of
what the Tallis Scholars achieved in Renaissance polyphony. In addition to
the unison pieces, Gentle Words benefits from the marvelous arrangements
of Kevin Siegfried (some of which are now published by Earthsongs). Gentle
Words provides and excellent contrast to Cohen’s urtext approach to the
music. Cohen and company went to the Sabbathday Lake community in Maine
and worked closely either the Shakers. Cohen exhaustive researcher that he
is, has pored through thousands of Shaker songs (there are 10,000 in
existence) and even featured singers from the Sabbathday Lake on his
recordings, the results were occasionally raw but undeniably thrilling.
This are essential recordings if you want to get to the heart of this
The Tudor Choir offers a more polished view of the music
where every note is perfectly sounded and every phrase is lovingly shaped.
Siegfried’s excellent liner notes point out that his goal in arranging
the songs was “to make them accessible and useful in modern worship and
concert settings…I have attempted to maintain the simplicity and
directness of the original, unison melodies, with an emphasis on unison
singing and antiphonal performance.” Siegfried has succeeded, and I
think the quality of the arrangements, performances, and packaging make
this a recording that breaks out of the specialist market.
Gentle Words features 28 Shaker songs from communities
that were based in six different states. One of the oldest sons is In
Yonder Valley, attributed to Father James Whittaker, one of the original
Shakers who traveled to America with Mother Ann Lee. The song’s joyous
text is typical of the idealistic spirit that moved the Shakers in their
early days in America. O Lord Make Me Pure is a good example of Shaker
visionary repertoire, songs that were received as “gifts” from above.
The song moves from English to “spirit language,” a fairly common
occurrence in this repertoire. The choir shows off some of its fine
soloists in Heavenly Display, a song “given by inspiration” Siegfried’s
arrangement is superb, with thrilling exchanges between soloists and full
Even better is Lay me low, a song by Sister Addah Z.
Potter of the New Lebanon, New York, Shaker community. The song is
arranged for eight-part choir with a solo voice in the choral texture that’s
“laid low” and now sings a drone on a single note- it’s a thrilling
effect. The choir impresses with its ability to get to the very essence of
each song, whether the mood is ecstatic or contemplative. This is a choir
that is thinking about the words being sung, and their performances are
wonderfully honest and unaffected. I want to hear much more from them in
Gentle Words is another treasure by Loft Recordings, and
excellent little independent label based in Seattle that specializes in
organ music. If you care about American music or the art of sublime choral
singing, I implore you to buy this recording.