"Simple Gifts" has become one of the most popular American religious folk songs. The song has been widely performed in schools, colleges, churches, folk clubs, concert halls and elsewhere all across the USA and in other countries as well.
Yet, the background on the song and its composer remain a mystery to most people.
It is incorrect to call it a "Traditional Shaker hymn." It was written as what the Shakers called a "Quick Dance" and meant to be sung and danced at a lively tempo in their worship service. The Shaker church leader who wrote both the words and the tune was Elder Joseph Brackett Jr. [shown at left]. He composed his song in 1848. It is not accurate to use the title of "The Gift to be Simple." The Shakers did not use that title when the song was first copied down during the 19th century.
You can read about Elder Joseph Brackett's song in a book by Roger Lee Hall, a composer, ethnomusicologist, and singer, who is the foremost authority on this Shaker song. He is a prolific author of many music publications (click here).
He wrote the first article about the "Simple Gifts" song in 1980. That article along with his interview with the composer, Aaron Copland, was published under this title:
The Story of 'Simple Gifts': Shaker simplicity in song (1987)
He has discussed and performed "Simple Gifts" in many lectures and workshops about Shaker music.
Now, he has written a book from his many years of research on "Simple Gifts" and its rise in popularity during the 20th and 21st centuries, including being sung in arrangements at three U.S. Presidential Inaugurations in Washington. D.C.
Mr. Hall has uncovered additional Shaker music manuscript sources missing from other books. He has provided a detailed chronology of how this Shaker song evolved.
The complete book is included on a multimedia CD-ROM titled:
Great American Folk Song
(PineTree Press, 2014)
Included in the book are in-person interviews with two key persons who were responsible for making "Simple Gifts" more widely known:
--Sister R. Mildred Barker (1897-1990) of the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine who once lived in the same Shaker community where Elder Joseph Brackett composed "Simple Gifts." She also wrote an article in 1967 identifying him as the composer of this popular Shaker song.
--Aaron Copland (1900-1990), the composer who first arranged the "Simple Gifts" tune in his award-winning ballet score, Appalachian Spring (1944) and also in his First Set of Old American Songs (1950).
There is also discussion of a letter received from Sydney Carter (1915-2004), the songwriter who based his song, "Lord of the Dance," on the Shaker tune.
At the back of the book are an extensive bibliography and discography with 40 representative recordings of "Simple Gifts."
1. From England to America
2. Songs of the Gospel Parents
3. The Dance song
4. The Gift song
5. The Songwriter: Elder Joseph Brackett
6. Two Songs: "Simple Gifts" and "The True Vine"
7. Timeline and Chronology
8. A Conversation with Sister R. Mildred Barker
9. Aaron Copland and "Simple Gifts"
10. Sydney Carter's "Lord of the Dance"
11. The Selling of "Simple Gifts"
12. Searching for a Simpler Life
These are the bonus features included on the computer disc:
on a multi-media computer disc
with the audio and video bonus features
-- as an E-book
without the audio or video bonus features and
sent as a PDF by e-mail upon payment
©PineTree Press, 2014
Multimedia computer disc:
Click the "Add to Cart" button to pay for this multi-media computer disc with the complete book, picture gallery, audio and video bonus features, playable on your computer. It is payable to PineTree Productions by credit card through safe and secure PayPal. The price of $24.95 includes
all packing and shipping.
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"Simple Gifts" book and bonus features
For e-book orders (sent via e-mail):
To order your copy of "Simple Gifts": Great American Folk Song (without the audio or video bonus features) just make a donation of $14.00
To order your e-book copy go to the
AMP Store - American Music Research Edition No. 4
"Thanks so much for the donation of your reproductions of Shaker music for the Center for Communal Studies. I had an opportunity to show them ("Give Good Gifts" and "Simple Gifts" computer DVDs) to the Center Board when it met. Everyone was so pleased with your thoughtfulness and generosity."
Dr. Donald Pitzer, Acting Director
Center for Communal Studies
University of Southern Indiana
Would you like to schedule the author, Roger Lee Hall, to speak
to your group about the "Simple Gifts" song?
In his illustrated talk he will tell how "Simple Gifts" was written and its impact on popular culture, including excerpts from interviews he conducted with
Sister Mildred Barker from the Sabbathday Lake Shaker community, and composer, Aaron Copland.
To contact him for scheduling and speaker fee, click this link:
Read more about Mr. Hall's Shaker music programs