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Updated 06/04/2013


Simple Gifts

Joseph Brackett, Jr.

"Simple Gifts" is an 1848 Shaker song by Elder Joseph Brackett.  Brackett was born in Cumberland, Maine, on May 6, 1797. He first joined the Shakers at Gorham, Maine, when his father's farm helped to form the nucleus of a new Shaker settlement. In 1819, Joseph moved with the other Shakers to Poland Hill, Maine.  He later served as first minister of Maine Shaker societies, as well as Church Elder at New Gloucester, Maine, now known as Sabbathday Lake, the last remaining Shaker community.  Elder Joseph Brackett died on July 4, 1882.

"Simple Gifts" was written by Elder Joseph while he was at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine in 1848.

"Simple Gifts" is usually identified either as a "Traditional Shaker Hymn" or as a "Work Song." Actually, it's neither a hymn nor a work song. It was written as a dance song.   Shaker hymns usually have two or more stanzas of text, and Shaker songs have only one stanza.  Since "Simple Gifts" has only one stanza, it should be classified as a song. If you look closely at the words, you'll notice the last two lines:

To turn, turn will be our delight
'Till by turning, turning we come round right.

These words are dance instructions.

The following arrangement is from Joseph Brackett’s original 1848 score and not the more popular arrangement from Aaron Copland score for Martha Graham's ballet, Appalachian Spring.

Lyrics by Joseph Brackett Jr.

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.