We have had a good taste
of the food that never perishes,
and have drank of the waters that flow
from an inexhaustible fountain.
Yet we are always hungering and thirsting;
and the more we feast, the more we want.
Shaker Sister Elizabeth Lovegrove
The Enfield Shaker Singers are a vocal ensemble of adults and young people devoted to the study and performance of Shaker music. The group is open to all without audition, and is made up of both trained musicians and amateur singers. We rehearse from written music, but many learn the repertoire by ear.
We sing without accompaniment in rehearsal and performance. We have an active concert schedule, presenting at museums, colleges, cultural celebrations and educational conferences in New England and New York. We also bring Shaker songs to local nursing homes, the Sunday worship of area churches, and the weddings and funerals of friends and associates.
The group formed in 1989, and is made up of singers from Vermont and New Hampshire towns in the Upper Connecticut River Valley. We rehearse in Enfield, NH, often in the room that was the meetingroom or worship space of the Enfield Shakers.
For 140 years a Shaker community lived and worshipped in this rural New Hampshire village. The Shaker testimony was first preached in Enfield in 1782, and it was maintained until the last group of Shaker Sisters relocated to Canterbury, NH in November 1923.
The Enfield Shaker Museum now preserves the core of the village as a historic site. It is our favorite rehearsal and performance venue. We are grateful for our association with the museum and this Shaker site. It is inspiring to sing Shaker music in one of the places where it originated.
The Enfield Shaker Singers draw heavily on the repertoire received or composed in the two societies that were the New Hampshire Bishopric Canterbury and Enfield. Since the New Hampshire societies enriched their repertoire with songs from all the other Shaker communities, we also sing songs of the New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio and Kentucky Shakers.
The New Hampshire and Maine societies had particularly close ties, and they knew each others songs. Our group has learned many songs from the Maine Shakers at Sabbathday Lake, and from their manuscripts.
Over the years the Enfield Shaker Singers have learned and performed more than 300 Shaker hymns, anthems, gift songs and dance tunes. We probably hold 200 of them in our collective memory. The groups repertoire only scratches the surface of the Shaker music available to us.
Shaker music scholar Daniel Patterson has examined 798 manuscript hymnals that he estimates contain 8,000 to 10,000 different pieces. In the preface to the 2000 Dover edition of "The Shaker Spiritual" he notes: "at least fifty-five additional Shaker music manuscripts have surfaced since I did my research."
In our commitment to this unique body of American sacred folk song, we are always eager to learn and share more of its treasure. I am reminded of the words of Shaker Sister Elizabeth Lovegrove: "We have had a good taste of the food that never perishes, and have drank of the waters that flow from an inexhaustible fountain. Yet we are always hungering and thirsting; and the more we feast, the more we want."
Mary Ann Haagen, director