Gwyneth Walker

Come Life, Shaker Life!

for SATB Chorus, Children's Chorus, and Orchestra (2002)
(Vocal duet and treble chorus versions with strings or piano of third movement are available; see the page for Followers of the Lamb)

Return to Gwyneth Walker Music Catalog

Listen to a RealAudio (G2) stream of the third movement ("Followers of the Lamb") of this work performed by the Sonoma Valley Chorale, James Griewe, conductor.
Listen to a RealAudio (G2) stream of the eighth movement ("Hop Up and Jump Up") of this work.
Listen to a RealAudio (G2) stream of the ninth movement ("Come to Zion") of this work.

Download an MP3 file of the first movement ("Come Life, Shaker Life") of this work performed by the Worcester Master Singers, Malcolm Halliday, conductor.
Download an MP3 file of the third movement ("Followers of the Lamb") of this work.
Download an MP3 file of the eighth movement ("Hop Up and Jump Up") of this work.
Download an MP3 file of the ninth movement ("Come to Zion") of this work.


Commissioned by The Sonoma Valley Chorale; James Griewe, Music Director

Come Life, Shaker Life! Is a celebration of life -- both as the Shakers may have celebrated in the 19th-century, and as we may choose to celebrate now. Shaker tunes and lyrics form the basis of this work. But the musical arrangements are definitely 21st-century American in style. Often a straightforward rhythm in the favorite Shaker 2/2 meter is transformed into a swing rhythm. Sparse harmonies have dissonances and blues sonorities interspersed. The intent is to enjoy the enduring liveliness of the music of the Shakers, and also to add fresh life. Our life!

In addition to singing, the chorus will also perform clapping rhythms and dance! These were Shaker activities. And, they bring pleasure today as they did in the past.

In Shaker communities, men and women were separate but equal in their living quarters and in their daily activities. Thus, Shaker dancing also focused on equality, with the men taking a few steps, then the women answering, each in their own lines or circles. This simple style of dance will be woven into many of these songs.

Shaker singing often involved the counterpoint of rounds -- once again, separate but equal. And thus, the musical settings in Come Life, Shaker Life! often break forth into rounds. Simple and yet energetic.

The work opens with an "Introduction/Processional" of clapping rhythms. Once the chorus has assembled on stage, the claps lead into the title song, "Come Life, Shaker Life." The reference to David in the lyrics derives from the biblical quotation of King David "leaping and dancing before the Lord." And indeed, the Shakers also worshipped the Lord through dance.

"I Never Did Believe" presents the individual Shaker, on spiritual quest. "I never did believe that I ever would be saved without giving up all to God." The texture is sparse -- a solo Tenor and Soprano answer each other in musical phrase. In contrast, "Followers of the Lamb" is a boisterous and colorful song: "I'm glad I am a Shaker...I love to attend to order." [!] The Shakers were energetic in both their work and dance. [They must have had a sense of humor too!]

Clapping interludes frame the playful "Little Children." ["Little children, says Holy Mother, soothe and comfort one another."] The next song, "Watch Ye, Watch Ye," is a solemn yet hopeful expression of waiting for the Lord to come. ["Fear ye not, for with my hand I will lead you on. And safely I'll guide your little boat beyond this vale of sorrow."] Repeated notes in the accompaniment may be heard as a clock striking the hours. The little boat rocks on its wave-like patterns.

"Hop Up and Jump Up" is a round and a dancing song for Treble Voices. This leads directly into the Finale, "Come to Zion," a forceful and celebratory song. "All who will may come and share the glories of this Jubilee. Halleluia!"

Come Life, Shaker Life! is inspired by the Shaker joy of living: song, dance, faith, humor, playfulness, prayer and celebration. Life then. Life now.

Notes by the composer



Gallery of Photos from the May 2002 premiere of this work with the Sonoma Valley Chorale
(photos by Lewis Stewart, photographer, Port Costa, CA)