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




Note to readers:

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




Please help support the educational mission of

American Music

and help to keep it available online.

Purchase a CD, DVD or music collection at the

AMP Store


Make a donation at the botton of the page at

AMP Home




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, especially on the Internet.

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 "Dancing Song", or by its first line: "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 with the correct information for this Shaker song, and by so doing,

"we come round right."

--Roger Lee Hall, ethnomusicologist and singer



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
(PineTree Press DVD)

Arrangement of "Simple Gifts" by Roger Lee Hall -- click here




Read the interview from January 20, 2011
with Roger Hall about his previous book at

Read The Spirit





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) and PineTree Multimedia Productions, 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.

From this popular annual directory:

"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)

Gentle Words - A Shaker Music Sampler



Video of Roger Lee Hall's arrangement
performed by The Canterbury Singers,
Kathryn Southworth, Director

Click here


See also


Shaker music arrangements (sheet music)



For other arrangements (good and not so good):

Click here












"Simple Gifts" on Film



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

Shaker song use


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








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 20th centuries.

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

Simple Gifts - Great American Folk Song (book, music, interviews, 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 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, write to:

Joseph Brackett's Simple Gifts


Return to top of the page



Shaker Music (Home page)





© 2014-2015 This page is copyrighted by PineTree Multimedia Productions. All Rights Reserved.
No pictures or images to be used without prior permission.