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  Gentle Words

The Tudor Choir - Doug Fullington


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The Living Church
October 2001 

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

July 2001

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 life.

A very appealing CD, with outstanding choral performances, and an attractive album design.

Fanfare Magazine

October 2001

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 music.

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 choir.

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 the future.

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.



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