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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Monday Morning Check In: Simple Gifts


Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013

First, let me apologize for not writing much in the past month. I have been teaching at two summer camps and am currently in the middle of the second camp. I have very little time to devote to my writing on the blog because this current camp is out of town. What free time I have found has been devoted to touching base with my family and furry friends on the ranch.

I had a little time this weekend to catch up with some overdue chores. Now that the house is sparkling fresh again for the most part, and I have done a little bit of hard physical labor (shoveling wheelbarrows of cedar chips to spread in certain areas of the alpaca pastures), I have at last found a few moments to call my own to do some writing. As I contemplated what I would write about during my home chores, I hit upon the subject of Simple Gifts.

"Simple Gifts" is one of my favorite hymns. Written in 1848 by Joseph Brackett for the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine, this hymn was used several times by the American composer Aaron Copland, most notably in his "Applachian Spring" ballet. Here are the lyrics:

'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 words are simple and sweet. The meaning is timeless. The tune itself is simple and lovely. Such a small thing, but the music is often requested at weddings, and children love to learn to sing the song.

As this thought occurred to me in the midst of the donkey pasture, I thought about how simple it really was to look around me and discover the gifts laid out before me. The land is dry here in Texas, as we are suffering through the third year of drought conditions, and yet my animals that I refused to sell off have given me the simple gift of enriching nutrients that will replenish the soil, although many of my readers may not find the same enjoyment that I do in shoveling these gifts around. The cedar trees that we chipped and shredded last year are my gifts to areas of the pastures that need building up. My hens leave me lovely gifts of eggs daily, and the canine pack refreshes me with unconditional love.

As I frequently do, I turned my thoughts from the property and the animals to the students that I have been working with at the summer strings camp. I thought about the discussions that some of my students have had about using personal energy to connect better as chamber musicians and as orchestra section players. We also discussed our personality styles and how each style related to each other in a music setting.

Each discussion revealed the many gifts that each individual student (and teacher) brought to the ensemble and the classroom. These gifts may be small and simple, but the value of the gift is not diminished because of its size and complexity. We needed to remind each other to look around outside of ourselves and to learn to recognize the gifts that were before us. We needed to remember to accept the gifts we found and to allow the gifts to empower us to do something bigger than ourselves.

As I begin this last week of the summer strings camp, I will remind myself to be more mindful about the joy of teaching. Each student, parent, and fellow teacher has many simple gifts to offer, and I plan to look for every one of them this week.

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