Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. “Simple Gifts” is a 165-year-old Shaker song of thanks, of worship (we sang it on more than one occasion when we attended a local Quaker church, and the pianist at our current church played it just last Sunday) and — appropriately for us — for dancing (though we’ve never danced to it).
The song has been done by many performers, including Jewel. You’ve probably heard it in some form, perhaps via Aaron Copland, Lord of the Dance, an Oldsmobile commercial or the intro for a bad tabloid television show hosted by the insufferable Nancy Grace. A John Williams arrangement that included “Simple Gifts” was played by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, clarinetist Anthony McGill and pianist Gabriela Montero at Barack Obama’s 2009 Inauguration.
Though Joanna and I live a privileged middle-class American life, we largely agree with the sentiment of the song. We live in a small 1940s house and have never owned a car made in this century. Much of our clothing and home furnishings came from thrift stores and yard sales. Joanna feels guilty if she doesn’t use every scrap of left-over dinner (so yes, after today, we’ll undoubtedly be having turkey sandwiches, turkey soup and perhaps some new experimental turkey recipe for days to come).
Judy Collins, one of our favorite folks singers, chose to sing this song at the White House in 1963 before including it on her album titled, “Whales and Nightingales.” The video below comes from black-and-white television footage of a 1963 performance. You can also find another nice version, featuring Alison Krause and Yo-Yo Ma (and cool pictures of children) here.
Lyrics here, with video below.