Children’s voices

8th July 2011 | Concerts, Daily Life, Inspirations, Travel | 3 comments

Cerne AbbasThis morning in the village church of Cerne Abbas, we invited the children of the local primary school to come and listen to a rehearsal of Aaron Copland’s attractive piece, Appalachian Spring (part of tonight’s concert programme). It lasts around 25 minutes, quite a long while for young children to sit quietly, which they did. Towards the end of the piece, Copland brings in the lovely Shaker hymn ‘Simple Gifts’ with its well-known words, ”Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free’.

I was playing the piano at the back of the ensemble and was turned at right angles to the audience, so I couldn’t see them, but suddenly I heard what sounded like an angelic choir singing along with ‘Simple Gifts’, perfectly in tune. I turned to my right to see all the children unselfconsciously singing along with us, their little faces seriously raised towards the stage. It was a most beautiful effect, a choir of young children suddenly added to the instrumental ensemble, and I must say I had tears in my eyes. Had Copland been in the church he might have wanted to rewrite the piece and add a choir of children to his original score. But of course what made it particularly sweet this morning was that their contribution was spontaneous, unrepeatable.


  1. Spiros Bousbouras

    Does the average kid in England already know “Simple gifts” or did they just pick it up on the spot ?

    • Susan Tomes

      I think they must already have known the song, possibly with different words. But they didn’t know the song was coming up in the piece, and they hadn’t been primed to join in. One of the things I liked was that, when they started singing, none of their teachers tried to dissuade them.

  2. James B

    A lot of children’s music books in the UK contain the song and when I was teaching in the UK I know that I often used to sing it with the children in ‘hymn assemblies.’ I think the words of the hymn begin with something like ‘I danced in the morning when the world was begun…’ and the children loved it.

    Vaughan Williams also uses a children’s choir to great effect at the end of his ‘Thanksgiving for Victory.’ It does give a different, lovely tone. ‘Appalachian Spring’ is wonderful, especially the version for chamber instrumentation! Here’s Martha and her dancers performing it in case anybody is interested.


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