NEW GLOUCESTER — The Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village is hosting “The Maine Festival of American Music: Its Roots and Traditions” from June 21 through June 24. The festival provides a rare opportunity to experience Shaker music and history in the context of the wider world of classical and folk music, while also celebrating American musicians, composers, historians and craftsmen.
The Shakers host the festival with all concerts taking place in their 1794 Meeting House, one of Maine’s most beautiful and acoustically superb venues for vocal and instrumental performances.
The concerts will be dedicated to the life and legacy of Sister Frances Carr, 89 years old, who died peacefully at Shaker Village on Jan. 2. Through many decades, Sister Frances was a huge supporter of Shaker Village’s public programs and shared her love of Shaker music, classical music, and folk music through the four-day music festival.
The famous Shaker song, Simple Gifts, was among her favorite performances. A hauntingly beautiful rendition is arranged and performed each year by the Portland String Quartet. Opening night, Wednesday, June 21, will be a special tribute to Sister Frances, a dear friend of the Portland String Quartet for more than 45 years.
The Portland String Quartet will also honor Maine composer Walter Piston (1894-1967). Born in Rockland, Piston taught two generations of American composers at Harvard and in the world beyond through his acclaimed text books on Harmony and Theory.
The Washington Post called the PSQ’s recordings of his complete string quartets: “… a dialogue on the highest musical level.” His stunning and jazzy Quartet No. 5 will be complimented with masterpieces by Mozart and Debussy. Tickets are $20.
Thursday, June 22, will be devoted to Shaker songs. Composer Kevin Siegfried leads the Portsmouth Singers in powerful choral arrangements of Shaker tunes. Between songs, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Brother Arnold Hadd shares personal and historical insights about the Shaker songwriters, the motivation for the songs, and the past and present relevance of the songs within Shaker life. Tickets are $20.
On Friday, June 23, the evening’s concert will be Franco-American fiddling and step-dancing by the Don Roy Trio. They will perform crisp, straightforward fiddling that is born and bred in Maine’s French Canadian mill towns. Paralleling the Shakers’ tradition of song and dance, the trio will perform a variety of mid-19th century folk and fiddle music from the Franco-American community.
Don will be joined by pianist/step-dancer Cindy Roy and bassist Jay Young; they perform throughout the eastern states as the Don Roy Trio. Joining the trio are young musicians — the brother and sister fiddling team of Rossby and Elsie Arnott from Otisfield. Tickets are $15.
Saturday, June 24, the evening’s concert by the Portland String Quartet honors Maine composer, distinguished professor of music at Bowdoin College and special guest of this festival in 2007 Elliott Schwartz (1936-2016). The Shaker symbol, “The Tree of Life,” will find expression in the Shaker hymn as well as in the organic continuity of music that represents classical, romantic and avant garde styles. Works by Haydn and Dvorak will add context to Schwartz’ last work, String Quartet No.3: Portrait for Deedee, a final tribute to his beloved wife. Tickets are $20.
Tickets can be purchased online at maineshakers.com or by phone at 207-926-4597.
Shaker music, received mostly by spiritual inspiration rather than deliberate composition, is a product of one of America’s most unique communal religious experiences. The majority of Shaker songs originate from the mid-19th century and have been preserved by the Shakers through oral tradition. There were, at one time, in excess of 25,000 Shaker songs and, today, as many as 1,000 remain a part of the active repertoire of the Sabbathday Lake Shakers. One of these living songs, “Simple Gifts” has achieved lasting significance outside of the Shaker Church. Written originally in 1848 by Maine’s Elder Joseph Brackett, “Simple Gifts” in its best known adaptations has been used by Aaron Copland to create “Appalachian Spring” and by Martha Graham for her avant-garde dance performance “The Shakers.” By its quintessential nature, this song ties together the performances presented throughout the Maine Festival of American Music.