The spare grace of Shaker design and Shaker music have a lot in common, and both still strike a chord in the modern world. Who doesn't know at least a few bars of “Simple Gifts” ('tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free)? It turns out that the spare Shaker architecture is a rich environment for enjoying music – and live music brings those venerable Shaker meeting houses back to life. Three Shaker sites – one in Kentucky and two in New England – are exploiting that synergy with musical programs this summer.
First up is the 2013 Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill (800-734-5611, shakervillageky.org) in Harrodsburg, Kentucky on May 25-26. The Shaker community here reached its peak of about 500 members in the 1820s and today the historic site contains 34 restored buildings, including the 1820 clapboard meeting house where most of the performances by the New York-based Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center will take place. Highlights include several pieces by Brahms, Mozart, and Benjamin Britten as well as a lively concert of Spanish-themed pieces featuring classical guitar. Sight lines and sound should be nearly perfect – the structure was built to be free of all obstructions that could impede worship services.
Canterbury Shaker Village, (603-783-9511, shakers.org) in Canterbury, N.H. presents Traveling Home, a performance by composer and singer Kevin Siegfried and a small choral ensemble on June 23. A scholar of Shaker music, Siegfried will perform some lesser known works from the Shaker repertoire that embody what he calls “the expressive tradition.” About 25 of the original structures of the Canterbury community, which was established in 1792, have been restored as a museum of Shaker life and beliefs.
The only remaining active Shaker community, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village (207-926-4597, www.shaker.lib.me.us) in New Gloucester, Maine was founded in 1783. Its acoustically acclaimed meeting house, built in 1794, will serve as the venue from June 26-29 for the Maine Festival of American Music: Its Roots and Traditions. The festival launches with an unusual collaboration of the Portland String Quartet with Mic-Mac storyteller David Lonebear Sanipass presenting Native American legends and influence in chamber music. Over the course of the festival, audiences will get a chance to sing along with Shaker music, and catch chamber music interleaved with Shaker hymns.