Joseph Brackett, "Simple Gifts," arranged by Aaron Copland
Joseph Brackett, a Shaker Elder, wrote both the lyrics and the music to "Simple Gifts" in 1848. It was little known outside of Shaker circles until Aaron Copland used it in Appalachian Spring, ballet music Martha Graham commissioned him to write. She danced in its premier at The Library of Congress in 1944.
In Appalachian Spring, "Simple Gifts" is entirely orchestral. In 1950, Copland used this song a second time in his Old American Songs. We will consider Appalachian Spring another day. Today, we will consider "Simple Gifts" as a song. Here are the opening lyrics:
'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will 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,
'Til by turning, turning we come round right
This song has been a theme to much of my life. I have had to turn and turn again, learning that I was wrong, or that I didn't know enough, but by changing and learning: finally getting things closer to right.
Here is a link to John Washburn conducting the Vancouver Chamber Choir in Copland's arrangement of "Simple Gifts," from their album Simple Gifts:
Copland's artful, but simple, piano accompaniment is, to my mind, perfect.
I photographed "The Gift to Be Simple," the image above, in Salt Lake City (27 April 2006). The tulip stood alone against the side of an abandoned photography-supply store.