"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."
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 thegift 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.
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,
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
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,
please send your mailing address to: Simple Gifts CD
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."
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: