‘Tis the Gift


It’s strange how the simple things in life go on while we become difficult.

                                                                                                                           —  Richard Brautigan

Covid-19 has made things difficult, not that they weren’t before, providing a boost to the simplicity movement. I’m one of those resolute optimists who thinks we’ll benefit, ultimately, from the virus, learning among many things to live more simply. Meanwhile, I paint pictures to gird my hope—and hopefully yours.

The song “Simple Gifts” runs through my head often these days (Aaron Copeland’s rendition, in particular). The tune was composed in the 1840’s by a Shaker elder named Joseph Brackett, and is as pervasive at public events and ceremonies, in stores and elevators, and in films and on television as anything written by Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach, or Bob Dylan.

Joseph Brackett, who was 51 when he wrote “Simple Gifts,” claimed the song came to him by divine inspiration (Dylan says the same about “Mr. Tambourine Man”). The elder meant it as a “quick dance,” helping his flock to put the “shake” in Shaker.  The song lyrics were both instructions for dancing and instructions for life.

“Simple Gifts” remained obscure until 1944, when Copland included the score in “Appalachian Spring.” Judy Collins resurrected the lyrics in 1970, performing it on records and at concerts. Jewel rendered the song beautifully in 2016.

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