Poetry Friday: Simple Gifts

Music played a large part in my early life. As elementary students, we were introduced to Orf instruments in third grade, playing wooden xylophones and more as part of our music class. Choosing an instrument came in fourth grade, and I chose the flute, mostly due to my diminutive size. Due to the instruction on scales and other basic parts of the language of music on the Orf instruments and recorders, learning the flute was relatively easy. Around this same time, I took a summer of piano lessons. I didn’t stick with that as long as my sister did. Truly, I was not comfortable with the piano teacher.

Then, in middle school, we were part of larger ensembles – sections and bands. The band teacher was a very eccentric and thin older gentleman, Fred Townsend, who had thinning salt and pepper hair and a closely trimmed beard. He was also a flutist. I think our flute section received very good instruction from him, but I was (and am a rule follower) so I never had any troubles. In fact, he chose the leader of our flute section to tune the band prior to concerts. I’ve never seen that any other time. It is usually the first clarinet, as far as I have seen. I’m sure it was because he was a flutist. When concert day arrived, he’d post on the band blackboard to be in the band room no later than 6:53 p.m. When I wrote that he was eccentric, I meant it.

The middle school band was enjoyable enough that I stuck with my flute into high school, and learned piccolo as well. During my freshman year, we were assigned to learn our parts for the 1812 Overture. I was sitting in the first flute section, thus had to learn that part – which is rigorous. Practice, practice, and more practice ensued. I learned that part inside and out, with varying tempos, dynamics, and runs. It is a fairly difficult piece of music. Our teacher used it as our chair placement assessment. As I mentioned, I was a freshman, but I played better than all the other flutes and was placed as first flute, first chair. Although thrilled at first, I learned quickly that the upperclassmen did not care for this, shunned me, and I became lonely in a band for the first time. After that, I learned to make some mistakes (even purposely) on my chair placements. I remained in the first flute for my during in high school band, but never again sat in the first chair.

Learning to play music was a simple gift. I still enjoy it today and have come to appreciate all types of music. At this time of year, memories of playing Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride and other holiday pieces in band rise to the surface of my mind. For some years, probably between 6th and 9th grade, I actually considered becoming a musician. But, with the first chance at being the section leader and experiencing the social ostracization from the other students, I knew it was not the life for me.

The song, Simple Gifts, is an old shaker song written by a Shaker Leader in 1848. The lyrics are poetic, employing rhyme and repetition.

Simple Gifts -Traditional/Shaker Lyrics

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
’tis the gift to come down where you 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 gained
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed
To turn, turn will be our delight
‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
’tis the gift to come down where you ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

© Joseph Brackett, Shaker Leader, Alfred Shaker Village, 1848

  • Google+ – Source for Simple Gifts Lyrics
  • Wikipedia – Source for Simple Gifts Composer
– ‘Appalachian Spring’, Variation on a Shaker Melody: “Simple Gifts” by Composer Aaron Copeland as played by the New York Philharmonic Leonard Bernstein.

Later, the famous composer Aaron Copeland included this beautiful song in his recording of Appalachian Spring. 1944.

Today, Poetry Friday comes a day after our American Thanksgiving holiday. I am offering the words of this song as a poem today, to remind us all to be grateful for our simple gifts… those that we tend to take for granted. A love for music is my simple gift, what’s yours?

Our host today is Ruth at There is no such place as a god-forsaken town. Thanks for hosting!

10 thoughts

  1. Beautiful to hear, Carol. I love “Simple Gifts”, used some of the lyrics in a speech once. My school had “Grandpeople’s Day” on the Wed. before Thanksgiving. We used to only have Thursday & Friday off. We chose that day because so many grandparents came for Thanksgiving & it was a chance to show off their grandchildren & the school. I was a speaker during a few of those years & used this song as an inspiration for our giving thanks. It really is lovely. I enjoyed reading about your music experience. I love being in band & orchestra, & played the trombone, as now does a grandson! Hope you enjoyed a nice Thanksgiving.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your detailed comment, Linda. I am glad you could relate to this post and the music! I continued in music during the summer for a few years. But, one of my sons was proficient to extremely talented on several instruments and played throughout college. He still plays piano for enjoyment. I am sure you are proud of your grandson continuing with something you did yourself! I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving, as well. Mine was lovely.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm…your “simple gift” turned out to be quite complicated at times. I wonder if that’s true of all simple gifts. Mine might be, from my mom, the gift of making things by hand (cooking, sewing, crafting). Her perfectionism and my lack of it caused some friction sometimes, but the gift remains.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Michelle! I hope your son has continued to sing desptie the social trials that exist in music. Although I don’t play anymore, I create in other ways – I think creatives always find a way to bring forth their gifts…and you have more than one! Thanks, again!

      Like

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