Simple Gifts

Few songs reflect the spirit of the Hermit with such plain simplicity as the Shaker song, “Simple Gifts”. Although the Shakers did not live as Hermits, and placed great importance on the concept of community, their principles of simplicity, plain living and self-sufficiency resonate with the eremitical tradition.
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‘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 gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right
simple gifts ms
“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. It was first published in “The Gift to be Simple: Shaker Rituals and Songs”. “Simple Gifts” was a work song sung by the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (more commonly called the Shakers).
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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.

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.” “

Various additional verses, not part of the original or written by Shakers, can be found and are often added in modern versions of the song.
Simple Gifts
See Roger L. Hall “The Story of ‘Simple Gifts’ – Joseph Brackett’s Shaker Dance Song”, PineTree Press, (2006/revised edition, 2010).

See for a fascinating and detailed study of the song and its history, and links to other relevant sites.
For the Shakers, see

For the song sung by members and friends of United Society of Shakers at Sabbath Lake, see
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For the Sabbath Lake community, see
sabbath lake


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