No Thanksgiving playlist would be complete without “Simple Gifts”, a Shaker song written and composed in 1848 by Shaker convert Elder Joseph Brackett. Though often thought to be a traditional Celtic tune, or classified as an anonymous Shaker hymn, it should be appropriately classified as a dance song with words and music by Bracket. Shaker manuscripts indicate this is a “Dancing Song” or a “Quick Dance”. The concept of “Turning” is a common theme in Christian theology. The references to “turning” in the last two lines of this song have been identified as primarily dance instructions. The song was largely unknown outside Shaker communities until 1944 when Aaron Copland used its melody for the score of Martha Graham’s famous ballet Appalachian Spring [– hear Copeland’s Simple Gifts here].
“Simple Gifts” has been adapted, arranged and performed by literally hundreds (potentially thousands) of musical artists – including diverse and eclectic recordings by Judy Collins, the rock band Weezer, Jody Foster, R.E.M., Jewel, The Mountaineer Marching Band, and even as the background music track for the “Smurf: Rescue In Gargamels Castle” video game! It was also performed as a special commission at the 2009 inauguration ceremony of President Barak Obama, in an absolutely stunning quintet arranged by John Williams -[ watch it here].
Needless to say, I had a terribly difficult time choosing which version to share today. I’ve previously featured the The Piano Guys brilliant mash-up of Somewhere Over The Rainbow / Simple Gifts (check it out!), I absolutely LOVE the arrangement by the men’s chorus CANTUS here, an arrangement by Cellist Yo Yo Ma with Alison Kraus here, and a lovely little children’s version by the Cedermont Kids here. But, in keeping with the dance theme of the song combined with my blog’s Mormon theme, I thought it would be fun to share Lindsey Stirling‘s lively violin & dance performance at the 2013 Pioneer Day concert, “A Summer Evening of Music,” with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square. This version combines Simple Gifts with Scotland The Brave and was arranged by Sam Cardon. Enjoy! – MoSop
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Simple Gifts Lyrics – Elder Joseph Brackett
‘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 gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.