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Quakers and Music

Quakers (known formally as the Religious Society of Friends) are a small Christian denomination founded by George Fox in England in the 17th century. Friends place special emphasis on the direct ongoing access that they believe all people have to God within the heart. Over the past 350 years, Friends have developed some unique ways of attending to this divine voice in worship and in group decision-making. Quakers also have been known for their strong social "testimonies" for peace, equality, simplicity, integrity, and care for the Earth.

In the beginning, Friends (like the Puritans) were opposed to instrumental music. They also opposed singing psalms and hymns during worship because they considered this an empty form that got in the way of God directing worship spontaneously.

In the 1956 film "Friendly Persuasion" (based on the novel by Jessamyn West), Gary Cooper chafes at this early Quaker attitude towards musical instruments and acquires an organ, which he hides in his attic. He has a major scare when several elders from his local Quaker congregation come to visit and one of his children begins playing the organ. To his relief the elders believe the sounds they hear during silent prayer are actually strains of music from heaven!

This opposition to musical instruments and choral singing gradually disappeared during the 19th century.  Quakers today no longer oppose in any way either group singing or the use of musical instruments.  In those Quaker meetings holding "unprogrammed" worship (where those gathered wait upon the Spirit in silence), any singing done during actual worship services is usually done individually and a capella.

Peter wrote an article in Friends Journal about the history of Music Among FGC Quakers.  The article focuses especially on group singing among Friends General Conference meetings & at FGC summer gatherings. 

Annie and Peter are both active Friends. We have travelled extensively among Friends in the US, Canada, Britain, and New Zealand. We have often led group singing at Quaker national  gatherings as well as at annual meetings, retreat centers, and at hundreds of local Friends congregations.

The fact that Quaker opposition to music-making has thoroughly disappeared is reflected in the rich array of Quaker musicians today.  See below...

Directory of Quaker (Folk) Musicians

Note: Peter's writings on Quakerism that were originally on this website are now posted on a new website called inwardlight.org


Fri, April 25 - Putney VT.  7:30pm Singalong Concert at Next Stage at 15 Kimball Hill Rd, celebrating the life & work of Pete Seeger.  Sponsored by Putney Friends Meeting. For more information contact: Susan Slowinski.

Sun, April 27 - New York NY.
  Abraham Lincoln Brigade 78th Annual Celebration. New School Auditorium, 66 W. 12th Street, 2:30-4:30pm.  This year's event will be celebrating Pete Seeger who was a strong supporter of the ALB. Matt Emmer & David Bernz (of "Work o' the Weavers) will join us in leading Spanish Civil War songs. For more info go to ALBA website.

Sun, May 11 - Amherst MA.  Showing of "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song" at Amherst Cinema, 7pm. We will introduce the showing with several favorite Seeger songs.  

See also website for 2 swing bands Annie sings with: 


Shared Song Communal Memory NY Times article that talks about Annie & Peter, the origins of Rise Up Singing & ways it's being used in singalong around the country.

WFCR interview with Peter and Annie. Hear us talk about sing-alongs and the origins of Rise Up Singing with live performances of several favorite songs

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