Shaker music history
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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 credit the author of this information,
Roger Lee Hall, and also mention this informational site: American Music








Simple words for a simple song

by Roger Lee Hall, Ethnomusicologist and Composer

"Simple Gifts" (or 'Tis the gift to be simple) has become one of the most popular American religious folk songs. It has been arranged by composers like: Aaron Copland, Bill Crofut, Roger Lee Hall, John Williams and others.

"Simple Gifts" 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."

Another popular song, "Lord of the Dance," used the Shaker tune as adapted by English songwriter, Sydney Carter.

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 and it was published in The Shaker Messenger magazine. It has now been reprinted in my collection, "Give Good Gifts" - Shaker Music in the 20th Century

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."

-- Roger Lee Hall


Books for further study:

Andrews, Edward Deming. The Gift to be Simple: Shaker Songs, Dances and Rituals of the American Shakers, 1940;
paperback reprint, Dover Publications, 1962 and 1967.

Hall, Roger L. The Story of 'Simple Gifts': Joseph Brackett's Shaker Dance Song, PineTree Press, 2006, 2010;
reprinted on the multi-media DVD-ROM, A Shaker Music Miscellany. The information from this book has been expanded and updated for the larger book on CD-ROM titled, "Simple Gifts": Great American Folk Song, 2014.

Opdahl, Robert C. and Viola E. Woodruff Opdahl. A Shaker Musical Legacy, University Press of New England, 2004.

Patterson, Daniel W. The Shaker Spiritual, Princeton University Press, 1979; paperback reprint, Dover Publications, 2000.



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 way. For the correct information about this famous song see this book...


"Simple Gifts": Great American Folk Song (PineTree Press, 2014)

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 centuries. The book includes chapters on the song's evolution. The complete book is included on a multi-media DVD with bonus music examples, audio interviews with Sister Mildred Barker and composer, Aaron Copland, and video clips. It is titled,

To read about this multi-media DVD:

Click here


Just released from PineTree Productions!

A new multi-media DVD with "Simple Gifts" included:


To read about this multi-media publication:

Click here



Watch an arrangement of "Simple Gifts" by Roger Lee Hall,
performed by The Canterbury Singers, directed by Kathryn Southworth on YouTube --
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.


"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."

--from Chase's Calendar of Events 2016, page 262





"Simple Gifts" Recordings


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,
sheet music available (Op. 40) from PineTree Music



See also

Sheet music arrangements



For other arrangements

Click here








Composer Aaron Copland and "Simple Gifts"


"Appalachian Spring" ballet
Part 3 with "Simple Gifts" Variations -
Martha Graham's Dance Company (filmed in 1958)

Part 4 with final "Simple Gifts" Variation



Aaron Copland meets
the Sabbathday Lake Shakers in 1974


















Related Links


Interview with Roger Hall (Jan. 20, 2011) about his first book on "Simple Gifts" -- Click here

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 Wikipedia article is incorrect. The information under "Tune," has a music example that is not based on Shaker manuscript sources and the text underneath the tune is not accurate.


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

Joseph Brackett's Simple Gifts


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