Shaker music history
Books and articles


New England Song Series No. 4:

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






Simple Words for a Simple Song

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

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.

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 the song. Unfortunately, the errors still keep spreading.

These are the complete original words:

'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.


It is not accurate to call "Simple Gifts" a Traditional Shaker hymn, as in the songbook, Get America Singing ...Again, produced by the Music Educators National Conference (Hal Leonard, 1996).

It was originally 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 "Tis the gift to be simple."

More incorrect information...

 It is claimed that Elder Joseph Brackett wrote the song in 1875 in the book Eminent Mainers by Arthur Douglas Stover. That date of 1875 is incorrect and not even close to the actual date.

What is the correct information?

Both the words and melody of "Simple Gifts" were composed by Elder Joseph Brackett Jr. in Alfred, Maine in 1848.

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

Please spread the word about this correct information and by so doing,

"We come round right."


--Roger Lee Hall, ethnomusicologist



New book about this popular Shaker 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 century. The complete book is available as a PDF on a multimedia DVD with bonus audio and video and is titled,

"Simple Gifts": Great American Folk Song
by Roger Lee Hall (PineTree Press)








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





Donation CD



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 many other beautiful Shaker spirituals.

To receive a copy, make a donation of $25 or more to help support this music preservation site.

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




Sponsored by The Tune Lovers Society, each year there is a birthday commemoration of the religious leader who composed the words and music to "Simple Gifts."

Elder Joseph Brackett Jr. was born on May 6, 1797 in Cumberland, Maine. He died on July 4, 1882 in New Gloucester, Maine.

Listeners and musicians are urged to play or perform "Simple Gifts" on May 6 to honor Elder Joseph Brackett's popular Shaker dance song.

There are a list of good and not so good recordings at
Simple Gifts CDs.

For more information about Joseph Brackett Day,
look under "May 6" in this well-respected annual directory:

Chase's Calendar of Events 2015









Aaron Copland and "Simple Gifts"




70th anniversary of "Appalachian Spring" ballet (1944)
with "Simple Gifts" Variations
Music by Aaron Copland
Martha Graham's Dance Company filmed in 1958
on YouTube


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

See also this accompanying monograph,

Gentle Words: Shaker Music in the 20th Century



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,

Shaker music arrangements (sheet music)



For other arrangements (good and not so good):

Click here





If you would like to schedule Mr. Hall to speak to your organization about the popularity
of the Shaker dance song, "Simple Gifts," including some singing,
write to discuss scheduling and fee by clicking this link:

Simple Gifts talk








"Simple Gifts" on Film


A new story treatment by Roger Lee Hall
is available about Elder Joseph Brackett's famous song
and how it was written.

For inquiries by documentary or feature film producers,
write to:

Simple Gifts film story treatment


Did you know the "Simple Gifts" melody was used in several motion pictures? For example, these films:

A British comedy starring Peter Sellers? The Shaker melody was arranged by film composer Richard Rodney Bennett and is available from


Heavens Above!

starring Peter Sellers


And this film where "Simple Gifts" is played over the End Credits...


starring Lee Remick, Wesley Addy, Robin Ellis


Also this film directed by Spike Lee, who said that when he heard Aaron Copland's music
(including his arrangement of "Simple Gifts"), he thought of America, and his film is about basketball which is American in origin so it was a natural connection with Copland's music...


CD: HE GOT GAME (1998)



Do you know of any other motion pictures
that use the "Simple Gifts" melody?
Send the information to:

Simple Gifts on Film




This publication is now OUT-OF-PRINT



Related Links



Read the -- David Crumm speaks with author Roger Hall about "Simple Gifts."

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

Shaker Music History -- highlights from 18th to 21st centuries.

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

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

Simple Gifts - a list of CDs both recommended and not recommended.

Society for American Music Bulletin (Fall, 1997) -- article by Roger Hall about Elder Joseph Brackett and "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, write to:

Joseph Brackett's Simple Gifts


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