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.
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:
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.