As a voice major at both Oberlin Conservatory and Juilliard School we were exposed to American Folk Songs as a formidable ‘genre’ of songs that we were expected to know and perform. Whether Shenendoah, Jimmy Crack Corn, Go Tell it on the Mountain or All The Pretty Little Horses- these were all songs we were expected to learn. Composers from various musical periods in history set each of them in their own unique way. Simple Gifts was one such folks song. I remember the first time I heard it. It was at student recital a performance at Oberlin where it was sung as part of Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs, Set 1. From that moment on, I was a fan. Now that I was aware of the song, I found it turned up everywhere- pop singers used it, modern composers embedded it and my now favorite place is in the middle of the ballet score, Appalachian Spring by Copland.
What is it about that song that is so incredibly profound? The lovely melody with its’ joyful slant and rhythm or the lyrics? Can’t really say; all I know is that it has been a part of my DNA ever since the first time I heard it.
When I had my first daughter, Christina, I found myself singing this to her all the time. To go to sleep or while we were playing. It serves as both a soothing piece and one to dance to. When I started the Colorado Springs Conservatory, I made this song a part of every young vocalists repertoire- along with many other folk songs. When I started to create songs and stories way back in 1994 – I called them ‘Life’s Simple Gifts’, focusing on the very smallest of the worlds miracles, babies, animals, the wind, the sky- things that we might otherwise take for granted.
Well- here we are in 2020 and there is a full blown television program and content derived and based on those same principles. Though, keeping things simple seems to be a bit more complicated now- we can still take a moment and as I say in the final segment of each program.
“reflect on the simple gifts we are given each and every day, pause and be grateful.”
The words say it all- it is a timeless message and open to your own interpretation:
Simple Gifts Lyrics.
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.
For more about the actual history of the song as it plays out in American history go to-
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simple_Gifts. It’s really very interesting and as your child grows up in this program, the more you share about the context of the song in our history, the lyrics and the beautiful melody, the richer their experience will be. Remember- ‘To turn, turn will be our delight’ can mean so many lovely things!