This is the meal equally set, this the meat for natural hunger,
It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous, I make appointments with all,
I will not have a single person slighted or left away,
—Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, Part 19 (excerpt)
If there’s a holiday in the U.S. more Whitmanian in spirit than Thanksgiving, I don’t know of it. It’s the one time each year when, among other things, City friends, and others even further flung, hop planes and trains and get in cars to converge at our house for a grand feast.
It’s true, our gathering is tempered by vegetarian and British sensibilities. Nonetheless, despite yearly misgivings about the called-for menu, a turkey always ends up on the table, and the groaning board wouldn’t be out of place in an illustration by Currier and Ives. (On second thought, our chipped dinner plates don’t match, our silverware is cheap stainless steel, and our napkins are paper, so maybe not.)
The simple gift of a convivial meal is what makes Thanksgiving, for me, the best of holidays. Yet, after most guests have left and leftovers have been dispatched, nothing is more welcome than a peaceable country walk. It’s as if we make our farewells to Whitman and enter some semblance of a Dickinsonian room.
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.
On Spotify, click here for Shaker Loops by John Coolidge Adams, the traditional Shaker hymn ‘Tis the Gift to be Simple sung by Marilyn Horne, Doppio movimento (Variations on a Shaker Hymn; Simple Gifts) from Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring with the LSO, conducted by Copland, and the complete Appalachian Spring with the NY Philharmonic, conducted by Alan Gilbert.
On YouTube, for Shaker Loops (I. Shaking and Trembling) by John Coolidge Adams, click here; for the remaining movements of Shaker Loops, click here, here, and here. For the traditional Shaker hymn ‘Tis the Gift to be Simple, click here. For Doppio movimento (Variations on a Shaker Hymn; Simple Gifts), from Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, click here (Bernstein/NY Philharmonic) or here (Martha Graham, Simple Gifts is at 0:00-3:00).
Of Appalachian Spring, Richard Taruskin wrote:
That invented yet compelling neoprimitivist style reached its fullest development in Copland’s third Americanist ballet, Appalachian Spring (1944), composed for the eminent “modern dance” choreographer Martha Graham, in which a set of variations on the Shaker hymn ‘“Tis the Gift to Be Simple” became something of an emblem for Copland’s uncomplicated yet technically sophisticated manner.
(Richard Taruskin, The Oxford History of Western Music, Music in the Early Twentieth Century, p. 666)
Of Shaker Loops, John Adams wrote:
Shaker Loops is a multi-faceted title. “Shake” in string-player parlance means to move the bow rapidly across the string, thus causing a tremolo, or fast buzzing sound. But “shake” also conjures images of the Shaker sect, and particularly the shaking and trembling that accompanied their legendary sacred services. From the front window of our home in New Hampshire I could see Shaker Road, which led several miles up through the woods to a Shaker colony in the nearby tiny village of Canterbury. As a child I’d heard stories, probably exaggerated, of the “shaking” ceremonies. . . . the image of their shaking dance caught my attention. The idea of reaching a similar state of ecstatic revelation through music was certainly in my mind as I composed Shaker Loops.
(John Adams, Hallelujah Junction, Composing an American Life, pp. 91-92)