Monday, July 3, 2023

Followers of the Lamb - A Shaker Revival Tune

 

Gardens in a Shaker Community

I recently completed an arrangement of a Shaker Revival Hymn entitled "Followers of the Lamb." I have grown fond of the Shaker history in many ways, because when I lived in Kentucky, I was only 20 miles or so from Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, commonly referred to by the locals as "Shakertown." The village often hosted music festivals there in the community, and musicians loved to provide entertainment for visitors on weekends as well. I found myself on the campus of Shaker Village quite often, it seemed. 

I enjoyed the fact that Shakers loved to cook and raise their own vegetables. There is a marvelous restaurant at Shaker Village that utilizes all of those fresh vegetables, and they are scrumptious. Those who waited tables were clothed in period dress, and the food was always excellent. It was impossible to  have a meal at Shaker Village without ordering their famous Shaker Lemon Pie. It was sweet beyond belief, but somehow the crust allowed a person to eat an entire slice, regardless of the "lip pucker."

There were often lectures and demonstrations on site, as the Shakers were excellent, creative craftsmen when designing their most famous products...chairs, Shaker boxes, pottery, candles, candle holders, all sorts of woodwork and furniture, cloth pieces, brooms, etc. Fortunately, there is a wonderful gift shop where all things "Shaker" may be purchased. In short, Shaker Village tries to retain an authentic look at the Shaker lifestyle, while also moving forward in creating elegant representations of the period in history during which the Shakers were most prevalent. There seemed to be pride in many elements of the Shaker lifestyle and the products they produced, and it seems that the Board of Directors maintains that sense of uniqueness that draws thousands of visitors and tourists to the Village annually.



Having attended an overnight conference in the Village, I can tell you that "Simplicity" is a major focus of the Shaker community. In my hotel room, I think there was only one electrical outlet to be used for personal electrical gadgets (hairdryer, etc.). The hotel rooms were simple, simple, simple, and that was a bit too simple for my taste. However, it was indeed authentic. I managed my "Shaker life" for one night, and that, too, was a reminder to me that a person can live without perceived conveniences. It was an interesting trip.



So....how do you write an arrangement of a Shaker song? Simply? Well....yes....and no. I am amazed at the amount of movement that is indicated by many Shaker songs..."to turn, turn will be our delight," etc. In Followers of the Lamb, the Shaker refrain is "Sing on, dance on, followers of Emmanuel." As I learned in a demonstration at Shakertown, the Shakers made movement and dance a part of their expression of worship as they sang, and they were known for actually shaking in worship when they were moved by the Spirit. The idea of singing, moving, and dancing was a celebration of worship, and they particularly enjoyed worshiping through singing.


As I approached the arrangement, I studied the score of the original Shaker hymn by Sister Clarissa Jacobs (1833-1905), recalling Shaker history, given my information and proximity to Shakertown. The original key is a minor key (as are many other Shaker tunes), and the lyrics begin by asking all singers if they are happy. Basically, they encourage followers of the Lamb to rejoice in the fact that they are followers seeking to "do the right thing."

The original key of my source was e minor. I probably would have begun the arrangement with unison singing, but the range is quite wide, and the lower descent in the melody would have been a challenge for the Tenors. I decided to use the Sopranos and Altos as the melody, using countermelodies with the Tenors and Basses on the first verse. A forthcoming key change would make it possible to write for unison singing later in the key of f minor. It's only a half-step difference, but it still makes it a bit easier for Tenors.

In order to honor the Shaker musical tradition, I tried to keep open sonorities most of the time. The presence of open 4ths and 5ths are characteristic of many Shaker songs.

Countermelodies abound in my arrangement of Followers of the Lamb, and at times, some of the voices change to another function to provide another role (from countermelody to homophony, etc.). 

A descant, preferably to be sung by a small group, appears before the key change, and the unison verse after the key change is where vocal strength is most obvious. All sopranos have an obligato role in the final refrain, in a higher pitch level than it appears earlier in the arrangement. I am trying to keep musical strength in the voices following the strong unison sound enjoyed previously. After playing with imitation for the ending, all voices come together for a strong, fortissimo ending on the word "Emmanuel." As always, the dynamic level should not push the boundary of "beauty." If it becomes "not beautiful," sing a tad softer. Just a reminder.


Enjoy this journey to simplicity to honor a different group of people who are basically extinct today. Theologically, they chose abstinence above "procreation," and as reason might suggest, extinction is eventually inevitable. However, this unique religious group gave us many beautiful Shaker tunes that can be enjoyed by all singing groups today. 

Visit my website or J. W. Pepper  to purchase this worthy Shaker tune, arranged for SATB, SAB, SSA, SSAA, 3-Part Mixed, 2-Part, and Unison.

If you are in a school district that is totally banning reference to religious terms such as "Lamb," etc., feel free to substitute with other acceptable words. 

Enjoy!