“Simple Gifts” in the Key of F

Elder Burch, author of the Shaker Hymn, "Simple Gifts," looks like Lurch from the Addam's Family.
Elder Burch, author of the Shaker Hymn, “Simple Gifts,” looks like Lurch from the Addam’s Family.

Music theory class was sprung upon me as an adjunct to piano lessons, when I was in sixth grade. I resisted it. Wasn’t it enough that I could zip through the major and minor scales, up and down the keyboard? I had other, more pressing problems: Math class. What to wear. My hair. I shut my ears and my mind to music theory, and ultimately quit piano lessons.

Behind me are the math classes taught by people who never struggled with a math problem. I’ve finally found a good hairstylist. And now that I’m taking ukulele lessons, I realize that music theory is the key to expanding my playing ability. Fortunately, I have an amazing teacher, Paul Hemmings, who digs music theory. And in between lessons, I employ my new-found knowledge about scales to arrange some songs I like, such as “Simple Gifts.”

“Simple Gifts,” a traditional Shaker hymn, is an earworm. For some reason it doesn’t bother me as much as other earworms, such as Dionne Warwick’s version of “I Say a Little Prayer” (The moment I wake up, before I put on my make up) or The Bangle’s “Manic Monday” or “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong,” by B.J. Thomas. I know you are glad you don’t have access to my head, with its cabaret of battling earworms.

Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle. Video Game Box. "Five Things - 1.12.14" Timid Futures.
Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle. Video Game Box. Image from “Five Things – 1.12.14,” Timid Futures.

Perhaps “Simple Gifts” is different because it’s so clean. The song was written by Shaker elder Joseph Brackett, in 1848, when James Polk was president, the California Gold Rush occurred, and the first women’s rights convention occurred in Seneca Falls, NY.

What would Elder Brackett think of his song being used as background music in the 1982 Colecovision video game “Smurf: Rescue in Gargemels Castle”? Elsewhere in popular culture, part of it was used as the opening theme music for the show CBS Reports. The Ingalls Family sang it on Little House on the Prairie (cue the Little House theme song earworm). Jodie Foster sang it in 1973 on the TV show Kung Fu. Find more details about its history at Wikipedia.

Below is my arrangement of “Simple Gifts” for the ukulele. I think it’s more pleasant than the Colecovision version, which is an earworm with graphics:

Simple Gifts
Shaker Hymn
Joseph Bracket (1848)
Arr. Elizabeth Cornell

Key of F
F                          Am                  F            Am
Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free

F      C7               Gm     F        C7           Gm       C7
Tis   the  gift to come  down  where we ought to be

F                             Am                       F             Am
And when we find ourselves in the place just right

F        C7             Am      F(high)
Twill  be   in the valley   of love  and delight.

F(high)    Am     F                    Bb
When       true     simplicity is  gained

F                      C                     Gm        C
To bow and to bend we will   not be    ashamed.

F                      Am         F
To turn, turn, will be our delight

C7        Gm       F
Till by turning, turning we   come out      right.

 

Author: Elizabeth F. Cornell

Elizabeth F. Cornell is the director of communications for Fordham IT, at Fordham University. Formerly, she was a post-doctoral fellow in the English Department at Fordham.

1 thought on ““Simple Gifts” in the Key of F”

Leave a Reply