Simple Gifts

“Simple Gifts” is the fourth song in Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs, Set 1. The famous melody was a favorite song of the Shaker sect; it dates from 1848.

Date: 1950Composer: Aaron CoplandText: TraditionalSong Collection: Old American Songs, Set 1

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About

The text and melody, written by Elder Joseph Brackett, were quoted by Edward D. Andrews in his book The Gift to be Simple: Songs, Dances and Rituals of the American Shakers (New York: J.J. Augustin Publisher, 1940). Copland featured the tune prominently in his ballet Appalachian Spring (1944), in a masterful set of variations. In scoring the melody for voice, however, Copland gave the song a recitative-like quality by incorporating an accompaniment squarely placed on weak beats, ensuring that this version of “Simple Gifts” would be sung without a regular rhythmic pulse. Vocal or orchestral medium aside, Copland’s resurrection of “Simple Gifts” has promoted the once-forgotten Shaker melody to the prominent role of an American anthem.

–Stephanie Poxon, Ph.D.

Text

Simple Gifts
Traditional/Shaker

‘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
‘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
’tis the gift to come down where you ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

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Old American Songs (Complete)

Composer(s): Aaron Copland

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