Variations on a Shaker Melody

From Wind Repertory Project
This work has been identified for inclusion in the Small Band Repertoire Initiative. You may find discussion of the work's challenges and merits under the Discussion tab above. You may also contribute your own thoughts and recommendations by joining the WRP.

Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland (transcribed by the composer)

Subtitle: From Appalachian Spring

General Info

Year: 1960
Duration: c. 3:30
Difficulty: IV (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Boosey & Hawkes
Cost: Score and Parts - $87.11    Score Only - $16.34


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II
Oboe I-II
Bassoon I-II
B-flat Clarinet I-II-III
E-flat Alto Clarinet
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Cornet I-II-III
B-flat Trumpet I-II
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
String Bass
Percussion, including:

  • Glockenspiel
  • Triangle
  • Xylophone


In parts:

  • Alto Saxophone I-II, m.67, last note: Should be E-flat
  • Trumpets I-II, m.95, b.1: Add dot
  • Trumpets I-II, m.103, b.1: Add dot

Program Notes

Strong high school and collegiate bands alike will appreciate performing the music of this iconic American composer, and Variations on a Shaker Melody will be a recognizable and accessible work for most any audience. It is common to encounter obstacles when preparing transcriptions of Copland's work, especially when the clarinets are used as a replacement for violins. Precision amongst the clarinets can be exceedingly difficult to achieve, and it is not unusual for conductors to edit the articulations of some passages to better suit wind instruments. Additionally, trombone ranges tend to fall on the high side, and skilled trumpet/cornet players are need for exposed parts.

- Program Note from Great Music for Wind Band

One of Aaron Copland‟s most recognized works, Variations on a Shaker Melody is an excerpt from his Pulitzer Prize winning ballet, Appalachian Spring (1944). This setting for concert band was completed by the composer during 1956 and premiered at Northwestern University on March 2, 1958. Copland selected the then obscure Shaker tune Simple Gifts for his variations. The unsung text, “Tis the gift to be simple, ‟tis the gift to be free,” was also relevant to the ballet's larger themes of peace, war, remembrance, and national identity.

- Program Note from Ball State University Symphony Band concert program, 25 March 2016

'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
It will be in the valley of love and delight

When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed
To turn, turn, will be our delight
'Til by turning, turning, we come round right

Simple Gifts is a Shaker song written and composed in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett. It has endured many inaccurate descriptions. Though often classified as an anonymous Shaker hymn or as a work song, it is better classified as a dance song.

Scored for band by the composer in 1958, this outstanding work uses the Shaker tune Simple Gifts, which was first brought to public attention in Copland's ballet Appalachian Spring. The variations, which serve as section seven of the ballet, is subtitled “scenes of daily activity for the bride and her husband farmer.” This beautiful folk tune is treated very imaginatively and colorfully.

- Program Note by David Holsinger for Lee University Wind Ensemble concert program, 10 April 2017


State Ratings

  • Alabama: V
  • Arkansas: IV
  • California: V Class A
  • Florida: V
  • Georgia: V
  • Iowa: IV
  • Louisiana: IV
  • Massachusetts: IV
  • New York: 20 05 CONCERT BAND LEVEL V
  • North Carolina: V
  • Oklahoma: IVA
  • South Carolina: V
  • Tennessee: IV
  • Texas: IV
  • Virginia: V


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • Rowan University (Glassboro, N.J.) Wind Ensemble (Joseph Higgins, conductor) - 10 October 2023
  • Cuesta Wind Ensemble (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) (Jennifer Martin, conductor) – 10 May 2023
  • San Antonio (Tx.) Community Wind Ensemble (Albert Aguilar, conductor) - 5 February 2023
  • Moore County Concert Band (Pinehurst, N.C.) (Tim Altman, conductor) - 30 October 2022
  • Eastman School of Music (Rochester, N.Y.) Wind Orchestra (Mark Scatterday, conductor) - 17 October 2022
  • Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro) Symphonic Band (Craig Cornish, conductor) - 18 November 2021
  • Ashland (Ohio) University Symphonic Winds (Joseph Lewis, conductor) - 20 November 2020
  • Eastern Illinois University (Charleston) Wind Symphony (Alicia Neal, conductor) - 18 September 2020
  • McClellan College (Waco, Tx.) Symphonic Band (Jon Conrad, conductor) - 13 October 2020
  • University of South Alabama (Mobile) Wind Ensemble (Matthew Greenwood, conductor) – 27 February 2020
  • Oklahoma State University (Stillwater) Symphonic Band (Sadie Cochrane, conductor) – 25 February 2020
  • California State University, Stanislaus, Wind Ensemble (Stuart Sims, conductor) – 5 December 2019
  • Spring Garden Band of York (York County, Penn.) (Jeffrey Shaull, conductor) - 24 November 2019
  • Kennesaw (Ga.) State University University Band (Joseph Scheivert, conductor) – 7 October 2019
  • Nazareth College (Rochester, N.Y.) Wind Symphony (Jared Chase, conductor) – 13 September 2019
  • Northwest Wind Symphony (Centralia, Wash.) (John Welsh, conductor) – 13 April 2019
  • Delaware Winds (Christopher Dobbins, conductor) - 2 April 2019
  • Baylor University (Waco, Texas) Wind Ensemble (J. Eric Wilson, conductor) – 5 March 2019
  • Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) Concert Band (Aaron Copland, conductor) – 2 March 1958

Works for Winds by This Composer