American Shaker Tune by Joseph Brackett,
arr. Nancy L. VanZant
Although The Lord of the Dance suggests a Celtic origination for “Simple Gifts,” the melody and first lyrics were in fact written by Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett. Some early manuscripts of the Maine-native’s song indicate it is a dancing song, rather than a hymn. The work was largely unknown until American composer Aaron Copland used the melody in the 1944 ballet, Appalachian Spring. Copland used the melody again in his Old American Songs set.
Subsequently, the melody has been incorporated into a number of symphonic and popular arrangements. Among them, it is heard in John Zdechlik’s “Chorale and Shaker Dance” for symphonic band, Anne McGinty used it in her “Chorale Prelude,” and it was performed at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration as part of John Williams’ “Air and Simple Gifts.” The rock band Weezer has used the “Simple Gifts” melody in two albums, and it is used by the West Virginia University Marching Band in their traditional pre-game performance.
The handbell solo version by Nancy VanZant begins with a variation of the titular theme performed using four-in-hand technique and morphs several times in a unique treatment on of the now-favorite melody.