All is summer High o'er the billows we are wafted along Angel wing carry us Not one ripple to break on our song All is peace before us All is concert, all is summer While to heaven we are going But in the desert we are leaving behind Wint'ry winds are blowing 1
“BILLOW, n. A great wave or surge of the sea, occasioned usually by violent wind. It can hardly be applied to waves of a river, unless in poetry, or when the river is very large.” 2
“BILLOW, v.i. To swell; to rise and roll in large waves or surges.” 3
“CONCERT, n. Agreement, of two or more in a design or plan; union formed by mutual communication of opinions and views; accordance in a scheme; harmony. 2. A number or company of musicians, playing or singing the same piece of music at the same time; or the music of a company of players or singers, or of both united. 3. A Singing in company. 4. Accordance; harmony.” 4
A well-used book with its worn blue cover paper exposing the wood book boards beneath and held together with large indelicate stitches, and a broken spine without any exterior markings as to its name or purpose. Opening reveals that this is the eleventh edition of The Village Harmony published in 1813 in Newburyport. Tucked amongst the pages are two sheets of paper. One, a typed letter dated January 14, 1942 from Ralph Perry to Dennison Fish, Hotchkiss Music Instructor, documenting this gift and written on letterhead from the Ascension School for Boys in Lee, MA; and the second, a folded sheet bearing the name Joanna Perry Armsby on the exterior and handwritten music score with accompanying lyrics on the interior.
“Musick combines melody, air, harmony and measure. Melody is a series of simple sounds. Air is the spirit and style of melody. Harmony is the consonance of two or more sounds, either natural or artificial. Natural harmony is produced by the common chord. Artificial harmony is a mixture of concords and discords, bearing relation to the common chord.” 5
Melody, air, harmony and measure. Words that might describe the way a community, a village brings forth harmony. One community, The United Society of Believers known more commonly as The Shakers, wrote over 10,000 songs and gathered on Sunday’s to worship by singing and dancing, yet believed that one’s daily actions, work, songs, were a direct link to God. A society aptly described as “…self-sufficient, socially advanced, with no poverty, no crime, no jails, where women as well as men governed, with equal opportunities.” 6
“Virtually no one was born a Shaker, and the membership was highly diverse–the converts came into the Society as children and adults; they came educated and illiterate, native born and immigrant, New Englander and Southerner, Scotch-Irish and German, black and white and Indian–nevertheless, the Shaker’s developed a distinctive and remarkably unified song repertory. Many of their tunes were new and shaped to fit highly specific functions; they were at the same time firmly grounded in inherited melodic conventions. The United Society was one of the smaller religious bodies, but it’s songs far outnumber all the ballads and all the other spirituals known to have originated in American tradition.” 7
“Distinctive as the Shaker spirituals were in their origins, numbers, themes, melodic forms and ritual uses, they nevertheless shared a dominant trait of American folk song: they were a music profoundly social.” 8
Pick up the headphones, listen to the harmony and be in concert.
- Gentle Words Shaker Songs arranged by Kevin Seigfried, The Tudor Choir, directed by Doug Fullington, 2015, CD. Liner notes, pg. 7
- Noah Webster, American Dictionary of The English Language, Facsimile Edition, (Chesapeake, VA: The Foundation for American Christian Education,2010), no pagination.
- Webster, no pagination.
- Webster, American Dictionary of The English Language, no pagination.
- The Village Harmony , or Youth’s Assistant to Sacred Musick. Consisting of Psalm Tunes and Occasional Pieces Selected from the Works of the Most Eminent Composers To Which is Prefixed A concise Introduction to Psalmody, (Newburyport : E. Little & Co, 1813), , Introduction.
- Flo Morse, The Story of the Shakers, (Woodstock: The Countryman Press, 1986), pg. 88
- Daniel W. Patterson, The Shaker Spiritual, (New York: Dover Publications, 2000), pg. 456
- Patterson, The Shaker Spiritual, pg. 457.
Images by Douglas Baz