Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Marilyn Horne: Copland’s ‘Simple Gifts’ (1991)

Simple Gifts: Marilyn Horne, the  American mezzo-soprano, sings “Simple Gifts” from an arrangement by Aaron Copland, at Carnegie Hall in New York City, during its centennial celebration in 1991. James Levine conducts the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Simple Gifts is a Shaker song that Joseph Brackett [1797-1882] composed in 1848. It was relatively unknow outside the Shaker community until Aaron Copeland used the song and arranged it for Martha Graham's ballet "Appalachian Spring" in 1944.

The Shakers are a sect of Christianity, coming out of 18th century England. “Shakerism was founded by an illiterate English factory worker named Ann Lee. Guided by divine visions and signs, she and eight pilgrims came to America in 1774 to spread her gospel in the New World,” Ken Burns, the noted American film-maker says about the Shakers in the 1985 film of the same name:
They called themselves the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, but because of their ecstatic dancing, the world called them Shakers. Though they were celibate, they are the most enduring religious experiment in American history. They believed in pacifism, natural health and hygiene, and for more than 200 years insisted that their followers should strive for simplicity and perfection in everything they did. The Shakers put their "hands to work and their hearts to God," creating an exquisite legacy of fine furniture, glorious architecture and beautiful music that will remain and inspire long after the last Shaker is gone.
In 1840, their numbers peaked at six thousand persons, residing in nineteen communal villages from New England to Ohio and Kentucky. Today, just a few Shakers still live in a single village in Maine.

Simple Gifts
by 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 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.