Shaker music history
Books and articles


Joseph Brackett's "Simple Gifts"






Portrait of Elder Joseph Brackett Jr,

The Aletheia:Spirit of Truth

by Aurelia G. Mace.
Farmington, Maine:
Press of the Knowlton & McLeary Co., 1907




Note to readers:

If you quote any information from this page, please mention the page and this informational site:
American Music




Simple Words for a Simple Song

by Roger Lee Hall, Ethnomusicologist

"Simple Gifts" has become one of the most popular American religious folk songs.

It has been performed in public schools, colleges, folk clubs, churches, concert halls and other locations all across the USA and in other countries as well. The Music Educators Conference have mentioned this Shaker song as one of the songs that "every American should know."

Yet, unfortunately there have been so many errors associated with "Simple Gifts" that it is time, as the song says, "we come round right."

Back in 1980 I wrote the first article that gave the correct information about this Shaker song.

Unfortunately, the errors keep spreading, both on the Internet and in some books.

Here are the facts:

These are the complete original words of this 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 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.

Any additional verses that appear online or in books are not original Shaker words and not by Elder Joseph Brackett.

It is not accurate to call "Simple Gifts" -- a Shaker hymn.

Originally it was written as a religious dance song for use in their worship.

The words --"To turn, turn will be our delight" and "Till by turning, turning" -- are dance instructions.

Also, the song has been incorrectly titled: "The Gift to be Simple" or "Tis a gift to be simple."

The song was originally titled: "Simple Gifts," or "Dancing Song", or by its first line: "Tis the gift to be simple."

Both the text and tune for this song were written by Elder Joseph Brackett Jr. in 1848.

Please help spread the word with the correct information for this Shaker song, and by so doing,

"we come round right."


Certain members were called instruments, because they had the capacity to be inspired. Eventually, the period of intense "manifestations" ended, but the Shakers built their religion on the messages some of their members had received. Their famous song "Simple Gifts" is an example of a gift received in this special way.
-- Thomas Moore, page 185.

Actually there is no evidence that "Simple Gifts" was received as a gift that special way. This is common assumption among writers. For the correct information see this book...

"Simple Gifts": Great American Folk Song

A book is now available with the full story about the origin and evolution of this popular Shaker song from the 19th century onward into the 20th and 21st centururies. The book includes chapters on the song's evolution, also interviews with Shaker Sister R. Mildred Barker, and composer Aaron Copland. It is available on a multimedia DVD with bonus music examples and video clips and it is titled,

To read alout this publication:

Click here

An arrangement of "Simple Gifts" by Roger Lee Hall is available on YouTube -- click here




Read the interview from January 20, 2011
with Roger Hall about his previous shorter book (now out-of-print)

Click here





Simple Gifts
©PineTree Music

An attractive broadside (8 1/2 X 11) by GMH Design,
edited by Roger Lee Hall,
with the words and music to the Shaker song
on heavy cover stock,
is available for display or gift-giving.
To order this colorful broadside, go to the

AMP Store







This specially produced non-commercial CD, SIMPLE GIFTS OF SHAKER MUSIC, with over one hour of music contains 30 tracks of Shaker music recorded in live concerts and from Public Radio programs between 1976 and 2002.

It includes six different versions of the best known Shaker song, "Simple Gifts" (aka: 'Tis the gift to be simple). Also there are many other beautiful Shaker spirituals.

To receive a copy, make a donation of $25 or more to help support this American Music Preservation website.

Make your donation by credit card payable to PineTree Productions, through safe and secure PayPal.

Click on this button to



After you have made your donation,
lease send your mailing address to:

Simple Gifts CD








Joseph Brackett Day - May 6




Sponsored by The American Tune Lovers Society (ATLS), each year there is a birthday commemoration of the religious leader who composed the words and music to "Simple Gifts." Listeners and musicians are invited to play or perform "Simple Gifts" to honor Elder Joseph Brackett's popular Shaker dance song.

A list of recordings is available at Simple Gifts CDs.


"JOSEPH BRACKETT DAY. May 6. Day honoring the Shaker religious leader, born May 6, 1797, at Cumberland, ME. In 1848 he composed the popular Shaker song "Simple Gifts" (also known as "Tis the gift to be simple) while at the Shaker community in Alfred, ME. This Shaker song became known worldwide after Aaron Copland used it in his score for the ballet Appalachian Spring in 1944. Elder Joseph Brackett died at New Gloucester, ME, July 4, 1882."

--Chase's Calendar of Events 2015, page 256









Aaron Copland and "Simple Gifts"


"Appalachian Spring" ballet (1944)
with "Simple Gifts" Variations
Music by Aaron Copland
Martha Graham's Dance Company filmed in 1958




Aaron Copland meets
the Sabbathday Lake Shakers in 1974






"Simple Gifts" on CDs


Original Shaker melody on these CDs...


Early Shaker Spirituals -
Sung by the Sabbathday Lake Shakers



"Simple Gifts" song and a portion of the interview
with Aaron Copland are included on this CD,

Gentle Words: A Shaker Music Sampler



Shaker Spirituals For Christmas and The New Year

The Sampler Chorus



Love is Little:
A Sampling of Shaker Spirituals

The Sampler Chorus







Arrangements of "Simple Gifts"


CD: Celestial Praises - A Celebration of Shaker Spirituals
("Simple Gifts" arranged for chorus by Roger Lee Hall)



See also

Sheet music arrangements



For more arrangements
(good and not so good)

Click here










Related Links



Shaker Books and Articles -- books and articles about Shaker music.

Shaker Music History -- highlights from 18th to 20th centuries.

Shaker Music Lectures and Workshops -- programs available for any audience

Simple Gifts -- Great American Folk Song (book, music examples, interviews, and video clips)

Simplicity of Shaker Music -- about Shaker "letteral" music notation ad other information.

Society for American Music Bulletin (Fall, 1997) -- article by Roger Hall about Joseph Brackett's "Simple Gifts."

Wikipedia -- article about "Simple Gifts."
Note: Some of the information in this article is incorrect. The information under "Tune," has a music example and text underneath and both are incorrect and not based on Shaker sources.


For comments or questions about the Shaker song, write to:

Joseph Brackett's Simple Gifts


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