|Folk Dance by Joseph Brackett|
Background and composition
The tune was written by Joseph Brackett (1797–1882) in 1848. Brackett, a lifelong resident of Maine, first joined the Shakers at Gorham, Maine, when his father's farm helped to form the nucleus of a new Shaker settlement.
Resurgence and enduring popularity
The song was largely unknown outside Shaker communities until Aaron Copland used its melody for the score of Martha Graham's ballet Appalachian Spring, first performed in 1944. Copland used "Simple Gifts" a second time in 1950 in his first set of Old American Songs for voice and piano, which was later orchestrated. Many people thought that the tune of "Simple Gifts" was a traditional Celtic one but both the music and original lyrics are actually the compositions of Brackett. "Simple Gifts" has been adapted or arranged many times since by folksingers and composers.
"Simple Gifts" was written by Elder Joseph while he was at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine. These are the lyrics to his one-verse song:
- 'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
- 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
- And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
- 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
- When true simplicity is gained,
- To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
- To turn, turn will be our delight,
- Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.
- 'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
Several Shaker manuscripts indicate that this is a "Dancing Song" or a "Quick Dance." "Turning" is a common theme in Christian theology, but the references to "turning" in the last two lines have also been identified as dance instructions.
A manuscript of Mary Hazzard of the New Lebanon, New York, Shaker community records this original version of the melody:
The song quite closely resembles several repetitions of the opening measures of William Byrd's renaissance composition, "The Barley Break', which Byrd intended to imitate country children playing a folk game. Similarly, Brackett is claimed to have come up with the song as an imitation of what folk music sounds like.
"Lord of the Dance"
The Carter lyrics were adapted, in ignorance of the actual origins, without authorization or acknowledgments by Ronan Hardiman for Michael Flatley's dance musical Lord of the Dance, which opened in 1996. The melody is used at various points throughout the show, including the piece titled "Lord of the Dance." Other adaptations of the lyrics by Carter have occurred in the widespread belief that they are traditional, and in the public domain.
The rock band Weezer has shown repeated interest in the song, both on their second album Pinkerton as the introduction to the song "Across The Sea", and in a song off their sixth studio album (aka "The Red Album") titled "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)," on which it can be clearly heard in the piano intro and the repeated chorus of the song.
R.E.M used this song to open their song "I Believe" during the last half of their Work Tour in 1987.
The British punk band Toy Dolls adapted the song in their song "My Girlfriend's Dad's a Vicar", from studio albums "A Far Out Disc" (1985) and the compilation album "Ten Years Of Toys" (1989).
John P. Zdechlik used "Simple Gifts" in "Chorale and Shaker Dance," a 1972 composition for concert band. In 2004, Robert Steadman arranged the tune for orchestra featuring an off-stage trumpet and a thumping, dance-music influenced finale. Frank Ticheli also wrote a version of "Simple Gifts", presented in Simple Gifts: Four Shaker Songs.
Simple Gifts was performed in 2009 by the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps as part of their program "Ballet For Martha.
John Williams' Air and Simple Gifts was premiered at U.S. President Obama's inauguration on January 21, 2009. It was performed by Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Itzhak Perlman (violin), Anthony McGill (Clarinet) and Gabriela Montero (piano). It was a classical quartet based on the original Simple Gifts.
The West Virginia University marching band plays an arrangement of "Simple Gifts" as part of the band's pre game show for football games. The band's version of the song also has been featured in the university's television advertisements.
An a cappella arrangement of "Simple Gifts" is included on Minneapolis choir Cantus' 2011 album That Eternal Day.
In popular culture
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2011)|
"Simple Gifts" in such pieces as "Chorale and Shaker Dance" and the Appalachian Spring have been popular music repertoire for drum corps and marching bands. Among them are 1987 Garfield Cadets, 1992 Blue Knights and 2009 Santa Clara Vanguard. The Appalachian State University marching band also performs a rendition of "Simple Gifts" as part of a pre-game tradition, prior to football games. The West Virginia University Mountaineer Marching Band, known as the Pride of West Virginia, has performed an arrangement of the song during Mountaineer football games since 1973.
"Simple Gifts" is the corps song for Revolution Drum & Bugle Corps
"Simple Gifts" was used as the theme song for the syndicated newsmagazine American Journal, originally starting as a majestic arrangement in early seasons and promos, and then upgrading to a rock format in later seasons and promos.
From 1993 through 1998, an instrumental arrangement of the song was used as the theme song for the syndicated news magazine TV program American Journal.
On January 12, 2011 "Simple Gifts," in an arrangement by Grant Cochran, was sung at the Memorial for the victims of the 2011 Tucson shooting at the McKale Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
In Aug Sept 2012 "Simple Gifts" was used as the melody in the background, of TV spot ads for both Whirlpool, Simple Designs, Washer Dryers, and also Arborday com .
Two additional, later non-Shaker verses exist for the song, as follows:
- 'Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
- 'Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
- And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
- Then we'll all live together and we'll all learn to say,
- 'Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
- 'Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of "me",
- And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
- Then we'll all live together with a love that is real.
- Tis the gift to be loving, tis the best gift of all
- Like a quiet rain it blesses where it falls
- And with it we will truly believe
- Tis better to give than it is to receive
And an additional alternative:
- The Earth is our mother and the fullness thereof,
- Her streets, her slums, as well as stars above.
- Salvation is here where we laugh, where we cry,
- Where we seek and love, where we live and die.
- When true liberty is found,
- By fear and by hate we will no more be bound.
- In love and in light we will find our new birth
- And in peace and freedom, redeem the Earth.
Another alternate verse:
- 'tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be fair
- 'tis a gift to wake and breathe the morning air
- and each day we walk on the path that we choose
- 'tis a gift we pray we never shall lose
- Hall, Roger Lee. "Joseph Brackett's Simple Gifts". AmericanMusicPreservation.com. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
- Fischer, David (2005). Liberty and freedom: a visual history of America's founding ideas. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 269–273.
- Hall, Roger L. (2006). The Story of SIMPLE GIFTS. PineTree Press, pages 25-26.
- Hall, Roger L. (2006). The Story of SIMPLE GIFTS. PineTree Press, pages 40-50.
- John M. Anderson (October 1950). "Force and Form: The Shaker Intuition of Simplicity". The Journal of Religion (The University of Chicago Press) 30 (4): 256–260. JSTOR 1199188.
- Hall, Roger Lee. ""Lord of the Dance" and "Simple Gifts"". Retrieved 15 November 2012.
- Sound Gallery at http://www.lordofthedance.com/
- "Marching Band Facts". West Virginia University. Retrieved July 31, 2010.
- Johnson, Arthur L. (2008). Race and Remembrance. Wayne State University Press.
- Mockingbird (artist), Drenched (album), 2005, Simple Gifts
- Edward Deming Andrews (1940), The Gift to be Simple - Songs, Dances and Rituals of the American Shakers, J.J. Augustin. Republished by Dover Publications in 1962 and 1967.
- Roger L. Hall (2006/revised edition, 2010), The Story of 'Simple Gifts' - Joseph Brackett's Shaker Dance Song, PineTree Press.
- Roger L. Hall (2006), A Guide to Shaker Music - With Music Supplement, 6th edition, PineTree Press.
- Daniel W. Patterson (1979), The Shaker Spiritual, Princeton University Press. Republished by Dover Publications in 2000. ISBN 0-486-41375-6