The history of Quakers and music

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John Lampen has been researching the history of Quakers and music-making, and published a chapter about this in his recent book Quaker Roots and Branches . He wonders whether there is more that could be done to support Quaker composers and publicise their music.

John writes:

British Quakers gave up their resistance to music long ago. We now have some recordings of Leaveners performances, two Quaker song-books, and the recent publication of material by Alec Davison and Tony Biggin by Friends in Tune (  But are there also hidden treasures? When I organised a concert of music by Quakers at the Bradford Summer Gathering many years ago, I was surprised at the number of Friends who wrote to me offering a piece of (usually unheard and unpublished) music.  

So I wondered recently whether there was any British collection of unpublished music by Friends.  During Christina Lawson’s time as Librarian at Woodbrooke, she collected a number of pieces, but a recent search there produced no trace of them now.  

I got better news from Friends House Library.   Lisa McQuillan wrote to me: “The main compositions I can think of in our collections relate to the Leaveners (and its previous incarnations and offshoots).  We have some Leaveners material on open access.  Our online catalogue is available here: (you can try searching general terms such as ‘music’ to see what else appears, or the names of other composers not related to Leaveners).   You will see there are many original compositions, some by Quakers and some not. The material varies from scores, sheet music, lyric sheets, to ephemera relating to productions such as programmes etc.

We also hold the Leaveners archive. Sadly before they folded they were seeking external funding for a project to catalogue the archives and make them accessible to others for research and inspiration, but this obviously fell apart when they realised they had to fold. The archives is currently not open to research as it requires cataloguing, and much of it falls within our 50 year closure period.

A point of warning with these types of collections and materials, is that there will be various copyright issues. We are not the copyright holders of any of it, and depending on what type of re-use people want to pursue, there may be copyright permissions implications.”

There may be other collections of music wherever groups of Friends made music together for a time, like the Quaker Music Network currently (  I wonder whether we could do more to support “closet” Quaker composers and let people know about pieces which might deserve a performance, though I’m not sure how it could be done.  Any ideas?

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