A Shaker Musical Legacy

Robert C. Opdahl and Viola E. Woodruff Opdahl

This fascinating book brings more than one hundred previously unpublished Shaker songs to the attention of scholars, performers, and aficionados of folk music. A Shaker Musical Legacy introduces Shaker songs and dances that Brother Ricardo Belden, the last male member of the Hancock Shakers, gave in original manuscript form to Jerry and Sybil Count, the first directors of the Shaker Village Camp. The Opdahls have selected from and transcribed this music and included dance directions to honor Brother Ricardo’s hope that doing so would keep alive a part of the Shaker heritage. The songs are transcribed as modern musical scores for use by contemporary musicians and singers. Many examples are also shown in their original Shaker musical notation. Step-by-step instructions show how to perform the dances as the Shakers themselves danced them. Explanatory notes introduce each of nine musical sections.

Cover Image of A Shaker Musical Legacy
Paper: $35
ISBN-13: 9781584653608
Pages: 360 | Size: 8.5 in. x 11 in.
Date Published: July 1, 2004


  • The Shakers had between 4000 and 6000 members at the height of its popularity in the 19th century. Today, the sect is nearly extinct, and researchers like the Opdahls are eager to preserve its musical legacy of nearly 10,000 songs and dance tunes . . . [the Opdahls] add songs to the repertory.

    Library Journal
  • Learning about the Shakers’ history and development by way of their music has just been made easier and more fascinating.

    The Journal
    Shaker Historical Society
  • [O]utstanding . . . a magnificent volume.

    Catholic Observer (Springfield
  • An unusual, original volume. It certainly will become one of the most useful treatments of Shaker music ever published.

    David Starbuck
    author of Neither Plain Nor Simple: New Perspectives on the Canterbury Shakers (UPNE, 2003)
  • Tremendously valuable . . . useful to school and community choirs, community song leaders, and even classroom teachers . . . The dance descriptions and diagrams are a model of clarity.

    Larry Gordon
    director of Northern Harmony/Village Harmony

About the Author

ROBERT C. OPDAHL spent several summers at the Shaker Village Work Camp as a key staff member creating and conducting workshops on Shaker music as well as transcribing songs from the manuscripts. Toward the end of his experience, and while completing studies at Hofstra University, he met with folk singer Frank Warner who heartily supported the transcription project. VIOLA E. WOODRUFF OPDAHL taught history in New Lebanon, New York, where she had the opportunity to learn about the nearby New Lebanon and Hancock Shaker communities. Viola has written for the New York Historical Society, New York State Education Department, and she was a college social studies supervisor for SUNY at New Paultz. The authors have been studying Shaker music and collecting original songs and dance materials of the Shakers for more than forty years. ROBERT STUART JAMIESON, folk musician and author, has written a foreword about the fascinating chain of events that has preserved this musical heritage. JERRY V. GRANT, director of research at the Shaker Museum and Library in Old Chatham, New York, has supplied an introduction to A Shaker Musical Legacy that explores how songs and dances express the Shaker’s sacred worldview.

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