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|Folk Dance by Joseph Brackett|
|Folk Dance by Joseph Brackett|
"Simple Gifts" was written by Elder Joseph while he was at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine. These are the lyrics to his one-verse song:
Several Shaker manuscripts indicate that this is a "Dancing Song" or a "Quick Dance." "Turning" is a common theme in Christian theology, but the references to "turning" in the last two lines have also been identified as dance instructions.
A manuscript of Mary Hazzard of the New Lebanon, New York, Shaker community records this original version of the melody:
The song quite closely resembles several repetitions of the opening measures of William Byrd's renaissance composition, "The Barley Break', which Byrd intended to imitate country children playing a folk game. Similarly, Brackett is claimed to have come up with the song as an imitation of what folk music sounds like.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (September 2012)|
The song was largely unknown outside of Shaker communities until it became world famous thanks to its use in Aaron Copland's score for Martha Graham's ballet Appalachian Spring, first performed in 1944. Copland used "Simple Gifts" a second time in 1950 in his first set of Old American Songs for voice and piano, which was later orchestrated. Many people thought that the tune of "Simple Gifts" was a traditional Celtic one but both the music and original lyrics are actually the compositions of Brackett.
"Simple Gifts" has been adapted or arranged many times by folksingers and composers. Probably the best known example is by English songwriter Sydney Carter, who adapted the Shaker tune for his song "Lord of the Dance", first published in 1963. The Carter lyrics were adapted, in ignorance of the actual origins, without authorization or acknowledgments by Ronan Hardiman for Michael Flatley's dance musical Lord of the Dance, which opened in 1996. The melody is used at various points throughout the show, including the piece titled "Lord of the Dance." Other adaptations of the lyrics by Carter have occurred in the widespread belief that they are traditional, and in the public domain.
The rock band Weezer has shown repeated interest in the hymn, both on their second album Pinkerton as the introduction to the song "Across The Sea", and in a song off their sixth studio album (aka "The Red Album") titled "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)", on which it can be clearly heard in the piano intro and the repeated chorus of the song.
The British punk band Toy Dolls adapted the hymn in their song "My Girlfriend's Dad's a Vicar", from studio albums "A Far Out Disc" (1985) and the compilation album "Ten Years Of Toys" (1989).
John P. Zdechlik used "Simple Gifts" in "Chorale and Shaker Dance," a 1972 composition for concert band. In 2004, Robert Steadman arranged the tune for orchestra featuring an off-stage trumpet and a thumping, dance-music influenced finale. Frank Ticheli also wrote a version of "Simple Gifts", presented in Simple Gifts: Four Shaker Songs.
Simple Gifts was performed in 2009 by the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps as part of their program "Ballet For Martha.
John Williams' Air and Simple Gifts was premiered at U.S. President Obama's inauguration on January 21, 2009. It was performed by Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Itzhak Perlman (violin), Anthony McGill (Clarinet) and Gabriela Montero (piano). It was a classical quartet based on the original Simple Gifts.
A stirring a cappella arrangement of "Simple Gifts" is included on Minneapolis choir Cantus' 2011 album That Eternal Day. -
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2011)|
"Simple Gifts" in such pieces as "Chorale and Shaker Dance" and the Appalachian Spring have been popular music repertoire for drum corps and marching bands. Among them are 1987 Garfield Cadets, 1992 Blue Knights and 2009 Santa Clara Vanguard. The Appalachian State University marching band also performs a rendition of "Simple Gifts" as part of a pre-game tradition, prior to football games. The West Virginia University Mountaineer Marching Band, known as the Pride of West Virginia, has performed an arrangement of the song during Mountaineer football games since 1973.
"Simple Gifts" is the corp song for Revolution Drum & Bugle Corps
"Simple Gifts" was sung by the cast of Shining Time Station, along with guest actress Rachel Miner, in the 1990 Christmas Special 'Tis a Gift.
"Simple Gifts" was used as the theme song for the syndicated newsmagazine American Journal, originally starting as a majestic arrangement in early seasons and promos, and then upgrading to a rock format in later seasons and promos.
From 1993 through 1998, an instrumental arrangement of the song was used as the theme song for the syndicated news magazine TV program American Journal.
On January 12, 2011 "Simple Gifts," in an arrangement by Grant Cochran, was sung at the Memorial for the victims of the 2011 Tucson shooting at the McKale Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Two additional, later non-Shaker verses exist for the song, as follows:
And an additional alternative:
Another alternate verse: