Since John Williams arranged the special Presidential Inauguration musical performance for Yo Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero, Itzhak Perlman, and Anthony McGill, I expected that the composer would have cribbed from himself and thrown in a little of the Rebel Fanfare theme from Star Wars or something. Instead, strangely, I hear “Lord of the Dance.” A little wikipedia research reveals that Williams used the title of his arrangement, “Air and Simple Gifts,” to acknowledge his sources. “Air” probably refers to Aaron Copeland’s 1944 composition, Appalachian Spring. “Simple Gifts” refers to Joseph Brackett‘s classic American Shaker song from 1848, “Simple Gifts,” from which “Lord of the Dance” was adapted as a hymn in 1963 by Sydney Carter. Copeland’s ballet score, Appalachian Spring, published in 1944, also uses the famous melody from “Simple Gifts,” and is credited with spreading the tune outside of the Shaker community and into the popular culture. As it turns out, The Dubliners, Weezer, and many other musicians have also based songs on “Simple Gifts.” Confusion over the origins of the song has led to many many published versions of both the tune and the lyrics, some of them in the public domain and others not.
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