One of the best parts of touring with Cantus is the opportunity to experience new places. As part of our Southern Tour, I got to visit a place I've always wanted to go. I'm talking about the Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. An Active Shaker Community until 1910, restoration began in the 1960s. Today it's on the register of historic places and it's an incredibly cool place to visit. Walking to breakfast the morning after sleeping incredibly soundly, I couldn't believe how active and cheerful the birds sounded. In the West Family Dwelling, I was greeted by a friendly cat lounging on a couch in the first floor living area. I've always been intrigued by Shaker life. But after spending a night in this beautiful village, I decided to share my enthusiasm on the Cantus blog!
There are many things about the Shakers that I find intriguing and admirable.
- They live in community
- They value hard work
- They value quality and aesthetics
- They prefer natural beauty over decoration
- They value vocal music
- They believe that men and women should be equal in the church
- The highest ranking member of the church was held by a woman (Mother Ann)
Like the Quakers, the Shakers fled Europe because of religious persecution. Living in community, the Shakers lived celibate lives and grew only through recruitment or adoption (until laws changed forbidding religious communities from adopting children). As the industrial revolution opened up more opportunities for urban careers and dwellings, the Shaker communities began to decline. Even though the Shaker Church only claimed 6000 members at it's largest, the dedication to craftsmanship and music allow them to enjoy an important part in the annals of American history.
I'm sure you've heard of Shaker furniture or Shaker design. The simplicity
of their lives is tangibly represented in their handiwork. Shaker furniture is beautifully designed with clean lines and made for function. The wood is treated to enhance the natural beauty of the wood but also to preserve it for decades to come. Likewise, the Shakers poured an incredible amount of time into writing and singing music. Since they sang unaccompanied in worship, the human voice was incredibly important to them. Not only did they sing in worship they also danced. The dances often followed a pattern as the worshippers sang and marched in a single-file line through the meeting room. Although they wrote volumes of beautiful unison melodies and harmonized hymns,
"Simple Gifts" is, by far, their greatest hit.
There is one Shaker Community left in the United States. They open their services to the public and are still accepting new members.
For more information about a lovely retreat to Shakertown in Pleasantville, KY click here.
For more information about the Shakers, click here.