Tag Archives: Itzhak Perlman

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.

When Joanna and I lived in a bus, we didn’t have much money. For Christmas that year, we allowed ourselves to buy each other one small gift. I can’t remember what I gave Joanna (and she probably can’t, either), but I know that she gave me a “pocket full of soul.” Though I never learned to play it very well, that harmonica may have been my favorite gift of all time; I played it for hours, undoubtedly torturing Joanna with it.

My favorite harmonica player may be Mickey Raphael, whom I’ve seen perform with Willie Nelson but who also has helped out the likes of Elton John, U2, Mötley Crüe. Neil Young, the Grateful Dead and Paul Simon. For this post, however, I’ve chosen a performance by Larry Adler, who performed with Itzhak Perlman, left the United States after being blacklisted for his political views (another reason I’m a fan), and may have been the best harmonica player of all time.

“Our Love is Here to Stay” is a classic sung by many artists, and of course it has lyrics. But this version demonstrates Adler’s “mouth organ” wizardry: