Theme and Variations on Wayfaring Stranger
Composed by Ervin Monroe
for Flute Choir
Published by Little Piper
Includes score and parts
Piccolo (or Flute 6)
Bass Flute (or Flute 5)
I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world of woe
But there's no sickness, toil nor danger
In that fair land to which I go
I'm going there to see my father
I'm going there no more to roam
I am just going over Jordan
I am just going over to home
Wayfaring Stranger is certainly one of the greatest of all the American songs, and dates back several hundred years. The words and lyrics mesh in a powerful and personal way that make it a favorite for performers.
The composer and writer of the song are unknown. Some say the song originated in the Southern Appalachian mountain region, while others believe it to be a slave song. In either case, it is a song of a journey through a life full of toil and uncertainty on the way to a better place.
The refrain refers to “going over Jordan,” which is a Biblical reference to the Israelites crossing over to the promised land. It has been said that slaves referred to the Ohio River as “the River Jordan,” because it separated the slave and non-slave states. Wayfaring Stranger has been published in collections of slave songs and books of spiritual folk songs.
The words also point to the joy awaiting when the stranger is reunited with his or her lost loved ones. In the middle of the verse where the singer says, “I'm going there to see my father,” the word “father” is often substituted with mother, brother, and so on.
In Johnny Cash's 2000 version, he sings these words: “I'm going there to see my mother, and all the loved ones I have known.” In Bill Monroe's (no relation) 1989 version for singer and mandolin, he uses the word “Savior” and many spiritual references in his lyrics. Other excellent renditions I've enjoyed are recordings by Burl Ives, Emmylou Harris and Jack White.
Like most folk songs, there are many variations in the meldoy which have been sung over the years. The most common differences occur on the three pick-up notes before each measure, as these allow for individual expression.
I was the youngest of six children and I learned this song from my mother, who encouraged us all to sing. She knew the words and melodies of many fok songs and it was a common thing for us to sing at home. I used the same melodic theme that she taught me almost seventy years ago.
Enjoy this old melody!
– Ervin Monroe