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Halamus Publishing - Archived Articles - # 4, July, 2002



The Articles from the Monthly Newsletters

Written by

M. Lesley Halamek

July, 2002:–

SONG: "Simple Gifts" – Joseph Brackett, Jr. (1848), USA

Q: Who were the Shakers?

A: From Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia:

SHAKERS, name applied to the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Coming, a sect first heard of about 1750 in Great Britain. The first leaders were James Wardley (or Wardlaw), a tailor, and Jane, his wife, seceders from the Society of Friends who had come under the influence of a group of preachers and workers of alleged miracles known as the "French Prophets".

Jane, especially, claimed to have special spiritual illumination and to have "received a call" to go forth and testify for the truth. From the peculiar trembling of the secessionists at their meetings came the name Shaking Quakers or Shakers.

In 1774, Ann Lee, of Manchester, England, introduced the sect in the U.S., establishing the first community in what is now Watervliet, N.Y., in 1776. She was known as Mother Ann to her followers, who regarded her as a female counterpart of Jesus Christ.

Shakerism flourished, and by 1826, 18 new communities existed with a membership of approximately 6000. These communities held property in common, practiced asceticism, and honoured celibacy above marriage.

The movement diminished after 1860, and in the 1980s only a few members remained; they lived in two communities: Sabbathday Lake, Maine, and Canterbury, N.H. No new members were accepted after 1964. At Harvard, Mass., site of a former Shaker community, an exhibit of the simple, well-made furniture and utensils produced by the communities is maintained by the Fruitlands Museum Group. Hancock Shaker Village, which includes restored buildings and art collections, is located outside Pittsfield, Mass.

"English Shakers" was the name given to a community calling themselves "Children of God," founded by the British religious leader Mary Anne Girling (1827-86) about 1864. On her death the sect collapsed.

The Shaker Melody "Simple Gifts" is on Page 17 of

"Folksongs for the Violin", Part 2: The Violin in Major Keys" (A Graded Selection of Folk Music for Beginners of All Ages).

Details on the MUSIC PAGE

Q: Who wrote "Simple Gifts", and why?

Q: What were the Shakers' 'Simple Gifts'?

A: "Simple Gifts" was written by Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr. in 1848. It was first published in

'The Gift to be Simple: Shaker Rituals and Songs'.

"Simple Gifts" was a work song sung by the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing (more commonly called the Shakers, an offshoot of the Quakers.

Simple Gifts

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will 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,
'Til by turning, turning we come round right

'Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
'Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we'll all live together and we'll all learn to say,


'Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
'Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of "me",
And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
Then we'll all live together with a love that is real.


To hear 'Simple Gifts', go to:

The Maine musicologist, Roger Hall, who wrote a history of the song, stated that "Simple Gifts" was a dancing song - a quick dance. The song was both an instruction for dancing and an instruction for life. "Simple Gifts" remained in the Shaker community until Aaron Copeland used the melody in his ballet 'Appalachian Spring', in 1944.

In 1963, Stainer & Bell published Sydney Carter's hymn, "Lord of the Dance", based on the melody of "Simple Gifts". In 1970, Folk Singer Judy Collins resurrected the original words and performed "Simple Gifts" nationwide in the USA. By 1980, the song had become part of the American Heritage. It was performed at President Reagan's second and President Clinton's first Inaugurations, and sung at President Nixon's funeral.

In 1996, The American Music Teachers' Music Educators National Conference named "Simple Gifts as one of the songs every American should know, along with the American National Anthem, "Battle Hymn of the Republic", and "Home on the Range". Their 1996 President, Will Schmidt stated that:

"...Any youngster can tell you what this song means: Simplicity is
better than complexity, and we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously".

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