In 1944, Aaron Copland brought the little known Shaker song Simple Gifts to the hearts of America. The melody from Simple Gifts became the central musical idea for his ballet Appalachian Spring. Simple Gifts is a Shaker dancing song, incorporating the dance instructions into the lyrics. I believe it has a much deeper sentiment that originally intended.
The lyrics for the song are themselves appropriately simple:
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
The song is not long, the wording uncomplicated. The rhyme scheme lacks complexity and deep thought is not required to understand it’s meaning. To me, the melody is hauntingly beautiful and synonymous with Americana. This is a video from the show Blast! which I feel portrays the simple beauty of Simple Gifts.
As I said before, the song contains instructions for a Shaker dance. When I look over the lyrics, I see more than just a dance between two people; I see the dance we perform every day of our lives from birth to death. The instructions contained in the lyrics embody a means of living - simple and free.
What does it mean to live simple and free? Looking over the words, I find the answer to the question: “to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.” Living a humble life, a life full of humility and absent of ego, will help achieve simplicity. A life like this doesn’t seek to fulfill needless voids, regarding them as unnecessary. Instead of complication, the simple life leads to freedom. As the song states: “when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.”
Aiming for simplicity takes a few steps. As I discussed in a previous post “Baggage Fees,” which can be found on my old tumblr blog, we tend to carry much of our baggage around with us. These burdens weigh on our spirit and on our physical health. Their toll is exacted ruthlessly, and many times we are not even aware they are there until we begin to explore ourselves. Taking the time to find our baggage is worthwhile, as it can save you from so many problems.
Many Eastern religions associate the idea of “baggage” with karma. Karma is essentially the sum of your past experiences. If you allow it to do so, your karma will travel with you, dictating your experience. According to Buddhism and Hinduism, until you free yourself from your karma, your soul will continue to be reborn in human form. Until you free yourself from karma, you will never achieve the final goal of either of these religions - oneness with God.
Regardless of what you believe, Simple Gifts tells a similar story. If you can free yourself from complexity and create an existence based on simplicity, you will find peace, love, goodwill, and every other aspect of a positive, healthy, rewarding life. If your life appears to focused on the wrong elements, consider changing directions. Follow the instructions given in the song: “To turn, turn will be our delight, Till by turning, turning we come round right.”