Aaron Copland Meets The Shakers
by Roger Lee Hall
In 1974, the distinguished composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990) was in Cleveland, Ohio for a week-long celebration for his birthday and included concerts with the Cleveland Orchestra.
It was a joyous celebration and when Copland was given a key to the City of Cleveland by the mayor, he blurted out excitedly,
"I've never been given such an honor before, even from my hometown of Brooklyn!"
It so happened that at the same time there were three Shakers
from Sabbathday Lake, Maine in nearby Shaker Heights.
They were there in celebration of the Bicentennial of the Shakers arriving in America in 1774.
At a workshop for teachers, the Shakers sang a few of their favorite songs and I sang a hymn recently discovered about their first arrival in America after emigrating from England in 1774. The hymn is titled, "On the Landing of Mother Ann in America." This hymn is included on the CD, Love is Little: A Sampling of Shaker Spirituals.
Through a lot of hurrying around and last minute scheduling, I was able to introduce Copland for the first time to the Shakers. The meeting took place at a university librarian's home where Copland was to speak to college students.
This picture was taken when Aaron Copland was introduced to Sister Mildred Barker in Shaker Heights, Ohio on November 9, 1974...
© Gail Hall
This picture of Aaron Copland meeting Sister Mildred Barker was included with incorrect caption and no credit given to the photogapher [see Shaker Music News] in Chosen Faith, Chosen Land: The Untold Story of America's 21st-Century Shakers (Down East Books, 2009).
There were three Shakers who met Copland: Sister Mildred Barker, Sister Frances Carr and Brother Theodore Johnson, all shown in this picture speaking with the composer.
After their brief conversation, I asked Copland to autograph my copy of an arrangment of "Simple Gifts" for the Shaker library, as shown in this picture.
--All the above images of Copland meeting the Shakers were taken
by photographer Gail Hall and are copyrighted pictures.
A copy of Aaron Copland's autographed music page from "Simple Gifts" and an exclusive interview with him about his arrangement of the Shaker song are included in this multimedia book:
THE STORY OF 'SIMPLE GIFTS':
Joseph Brackett's Shaker Dance Song
(PineTree Press, multimedia DVD edition, 2010)
Hear an extended interview with Aaron Copland about his arrangements
of "Simple Gifts" and his other music at
A Conversation with Aaron Copland
Joseph Brackett's "Simple Gifts"
Read tributes to these past Shaker sisters:
Sister R. Mildred Barker
Sister Marie Burgess
Eldress Bertha Lindsay
Recordings of Copland's Arrangements
There are many worthwhile versions of Copland's Appalachian Spring, which includes the variations on "Simple Gifts." Also, Copland's arrangement of the Shaker song in his set of Old American Songs.
Here is the highly recommended CD of the original ballet score
conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas:
Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, Rodeo
Information about the television series hosted by Michael Tilson Thomas featuring "Copland and the American Sound" is at this link:
This CD has only the Suite from Appalachian Spring but it is one of the most popular recordings,
conducted by Copland's longtime friend, Leonard Bernstein:
Copland: Appalachian Spring Suite and other works
These are three recommended CDs with Copland conducting:
A Copland Celebration Vol. 1 - Appalachian Spring (original chamber version)
and other works - original complete ballet version,
including the "Simple Gifts" variations.
A Copland Celebration Vol. 2 - Old American Songs & other works
includes an arrangement of "Simple Gifts" for voice and piano
in Old American Songs with
William Warfied, baritone and Aaron Copland, piano
A Copland Celebration Vol. 3 - Old American Songs & other works
orchestral arrangement of "Simple Gifts"
(the distinguished baritone known for his role in Gershwin's Porgy & Bess and also in the MGM movie musical, SHOWBOAT)
The Music of America: Aaron Copland
a recommended recent 3 CD set with the variations on"Simple Gifts"
from Appalachian Spring (Michael Tilson Thomas and
San Francisco Symphony), also the
song arrangement sung by William Warfield
in Old American Songs
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