Joseph Brackett's "Simple Gifts"
Portrait of Elder Joseph Brackett Jr,
The Aletheia:Spirit of Truth
by Aurelia G. Mace.
Press of the Knowlton & McLeary Co.,
this popular Shaker song
by clicking on these links:
Message to Internet Readers:
Should you use any of the information on this page on your web site, in a research paper, publication, or a performance, kindly give proper credit to
Roger Lee Hall, who is the foremost authority on this Shaker song and has prepared the information on this web page.
New England Song Series No. 4:
Simple Words for a Simple Song
"Simple Gifts" has become one of the most popular American folk spirituals.
It has been performed in schools, churches, concert halls and elsewhere 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 "we come round right."
These are the complete original words to the one verse Shaker 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.
Did you know that "Simple Gifts" is NOT a hymn and should not be classified as "Traditional"? Also, it was NOT composed in 1875, as indicated on the best-selling Boston Camerata CD, "Simple Gifts." The actual date was 1848 and it was composed at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine.
It was written as a dance song, what the Shakers called a "Quick Dance."
The Shaker leader who wrote both the words and the tune was Elder Joseph Brackett Jr. (1797-1882).
The foremost authority on this Shaker dance song is Roger Lee Hall, an ethnomusicologist and composer. He was written extensively about the song and published several pamphlets (1987, 1997) as well as a larger collection titled, The Story of 'Simple Gifts,' in three editions: 2006, 2009 and 2010, but all three editions are now out-of-print.
A new book on the subject will be available in early 2014.
It will include more information about "Simple Gifts" in the 20th century including how it was re-discovered. Also, an interview with composer Aaron Copland, correspondence with songwriter, Sydney Carter ("Lord of the Dance"), and how the Shaker song has influenced aspects of many lives in our time.
Watch the performance of "Simple Gifts" performed by harpist Diane Schneider and singer, Roger Lee Hall, at the meeting house, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Click here to watch on YouTube
An attractive broadside (8 1/2 X 11)
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 was compiled by Shaker music scholar, Roger Hall.
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 keep this music preservation site online. 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 of Shaker Music CD
Joseph Brackett Day
May 6 is Joseph Brackett Day
Sponsored by The Tune Lovers Society, each year there is a birthday commemoration of the Shaker religious leader who wrote 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 few recommended recordings listed at CD and DVD Releases.
For more information about Joseph Brackett Day,
look under "May 6" in this well-respected annual directory:
Chase's Calendar of Events 2013
"Simple Gifts" on CDs
Original Shaker melody on these CDs...
Early Shaker Spirituals -
Sung by the Sabbathday Lake Shakers
"Simple Gifts" song and an exclusive 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
JOY OF ANGELS:
Shaker Spirituals For Christmas and The New Year
The Sampler Chorus
Love is Little:
A Sampling of Shaker Spirituals
The Sampler Chorus
A few arrangements of "Simple Gifts"
Celestial Praises - A Celebration of Shaker Spirituals
("Simple Gifts" arranged by Roger Lee Hall)
Arrangement by Aaron Copland of "Simple Gifts" for voice and piano
William Warfield, baritone, and Aaron Copland, piano,
on this CD,
A Copland Celebration Vol. 2
Orchestral arrangement of "Simple Gifts" on this CD,
A Copland Celebration Vol. 3
Aaron Copland Meets The Shakers
"Simple Gifts" is sensitively performed by cellist Yo-Yo Ma
with vocalist, Allison Krauss, on
The Essential Yo-Yo Ma (2 CDs)
Chris Hazell's arrangement,
sung by Bryn Terfel with the London Symphony Orchestra
at this link,
Bryn Terfel: Simple Gifts
The King's Singers perform Bob Chilcott's popular arrangement
on this CD
The King's Singers: Simple Gifts
"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,
Simple Gifts film story treatment
Did you know the "Simple Gifts" melody was used
in a British comedy
starring Peter Sellars?
The Shaker melody was arranged
by film composer Richard Rodney Bennett and is available from Amazon.com...
DVD: HEAVENS ABOVE! (1963)
Do you know of any other films that uses the "Simple Gifts" melody?
Send the information to:
Simple Gifts On Film
Singing New Englanders:
From The Pilgrims to The Shakers
Read the Spirit.com -- 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 - a list of CDs both recommended and not recommended.
Society for American Music Bulletin (Fall, 1997) -- article about Joseph Brackett and "Simple Gifts."
What's in a Song: Simple Gifts
Wikipedia -- article about "Simple Gifts."
CAUTION: Much of the information in this entry is correct but under "Tune" the music example and text with it are not accurate and not based on Shaker sources.
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