article by Emily Ireland and Juliette Beaubien
edited by Lyndsey Kamszik
One of the elders of the Alfred branch was named Joseph Brackett. He was born in 1797 under the name of Elisha Brackett. He lived until 1882 when he died at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community. He lived in Maine his entire life and first joined the shakers in Gorham, when his father used his farm to help start a new settlement. Joseph was a musician and wrote songs for the shaker community.
One of his most famous songs is “Simple Gifts”. It became well known after Martha Graham used it in her ballet “Appalachian Spring,” and from there it only grew. This song was originally made for dancing and could be used during ceremonies. The short two verse song was easy for everyone to learn. Its simple lyrics and melody has been able to capture the simplistic nature of the Shaker people and what made their lives great.
The simplicity of the song has allowed for it to be used in many different arrangements for choral and band students alike. This tune is used so often that it seems hard to escape from it in some people’s eyes. Mr. Goad, the MHS band director states, “There was a group of kids that did some sort of arrangement of Simple Gifts every year.” This clearly shows that it has become such a popular choice among composers that it has woven its way into the fabric of music.
The Shaker’s way of life is very commonly perceived as simple and was valued on an aptitude for art and respect for nature. Some may say the shaker way was as harmonious as their best-known song “Simple Gifts.” The Alfred Shakers were, in fact, the last bunch of Shakers when they merged with their sister group, Sabbathday Lake, in 1931. The locals, not wanting to lose the Shaker history, formed a museum in honor of this historical group that is still visitable today. The museum will open for the season in May, with events and workshops. It's quite clear to see the shakers were very valued in Alfred as “Simple Gifts” is the town’s official song.