Simple Gifts (‘Tis A Gift To Be Simple) is the latest addition to our wedding music palette, and it’s found on our Processionals for Brides & Bridesmaids album, as well as Catholic Wedding Hymns. Originally a dance tune, composed by Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett, Simple Gifts is sometimes interpreted as a slower, reflective song, and it is quite nice in that style. But here it’s a more sprightly and dance-like tune, utilizing Tobin Wingard’s flute, wood flute, and penny whistle for the melody, and various strummed and picked instruments along with a real string section and celesta for the accompaniment.
Composed in 1844, the lyrics of Simple Gifts indicate that it was intended as a dance number -
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
These references to turning, of course, were most likely dance instructions embedded in the lyrics of the tune.
If your tastes run toward classic wedding music – Pachelbel’s Canon, Jesu Joy Of Man’s Desiring, Spring (Vivaldi), Ode to Joy, & Simple Gifts, listen to samples 11-20 on our Wedding Music Samples album for more ideas.
Simple Gifts was popularized when Aaron Copland included it in the music he composed for the ballet Appalachian Spring. John Williams employed the tune as well in his composition “Air and Simple Gifts” for the inauguration of President Obama in 2009. It has been performed by diverse artists (Weezer, Jewel, Judy Collins, the cast of Shining Time Station), and appeared in films and on stage.
There have been various arrangements and adaptations of the original melody and harmony; our version is very close to the Appalachian Spring adaptation of Copland, and slightly different from the many vocal versions used in the present day.
Simple Gifts is beautiful as a wedding prelude piece, processional number (especially for bridesmaids), or reception music. In addition to its inclusion on our