violin online logo
20th Century Unit 1: Early ViolinUnit 2: Baroque Musical Period Unit 3: Classical Musical Period Unit 4: Romantic Musical Period Unit 5: 20th Century Musical PeriodUnit 6: Non Traditional

PIECE: SIMPLE GIFTS

SECTION 5.6

Simple Gifts - a Shaker dancing song
listen
JPG file

shakers dance
Fig. 5.6 Shakers singing and dancing

Simple Gifts is a Shaker [16] dancing song, and is generally thought to have been composed in 1848 by Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett Jr. at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine. [17] It appears in many early manuscript collections of Shaker music, and one manuscript notes it was "composed by the Alfred Ministry June 28, 1848." [18] This melody became well-known and was elevated to the level of art music when it was used by composers in other compositions such as Aaron Copland’s use of Simple Gifts in his 1944 ballet Appalachian Spring (Copland subsequently arranged Appalachian Spring as an orchestral suite, and the Simple Gifts melody is prominently featured in this suite). Other notable uses of the Simple Gifts tune include Sydney Carter’s 1963 Lord of the Dance music. Simple Gifts has one verse, and the lyrics are included below. [19]

Simple Gifts Text
'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.

TECHNIQUE TIPS: Simple Gifts was used for dancing, and the text accompanying the music emphasizes the dance nature of the piece with the words "turn, turn." It was called a quick dance by the Shakers, and should be played with a moderately fast tempo. As you play this simple dancing tune, try to maintain the momentum of the rhythm and melody with light and energetic bowing and with slurs when needed. [20]