The Wayfaring Stranger reel

Also known as Poor Wayfaring Stranger, The Poor Wayfaring Stranger.

There are 10 recordings of this tune.

The Wayfaring Stranger has been added to 2 tune sets.

The Wayfaring Stranger has been added to 62 tunebooks.

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Two settings

X: 1
T: The Wayfaring Stranger
R: reel
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Emin
X: 2
T: The Wayfaring Stranger
R: reel
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Amin
A2A2e2e2|e4d2e2-|d2c2{G}A2A2-|A-A -e2 d2|
d2d2c2 cd|e2e6-|e2A2A2e2|e8|
A2A2A2 e2-|eg (a6|a2)g2e2d2|eg g6|
# Added by JACKB .

Eleven comments

The Wayfaring Stranger- Slow Air/Song

‘The Wayfaring Stranger’ as played by Jerry O’Sullivan, from his second CD ‘The Gift’. This is a slow air, adapted from an Appalachian spiritual, sometimes called ‘The Poor Wayfaring Stranger’. This might could be called one from the American Scots-Irish tradition. I’ve included the chords for setting. The words are as follows:

I am a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world of woe,
But there’s no sickness, toil or danger
In that bright land to which I go.

I’m going there to meet my mother,
Said she’ll meet me when I come;
I’m only going over Jordan,
I’m only going home.

I know dark clouds will gather ‘round me,
I know my way will be rough and steep,
But beautiful fields lie just before me,
Where God’s redeemed their vigil keep.

I’m going there to meet my loved one’s,
Gone on before me, one by one;
I’m only going over Jordan,
I’m only going home.

I’ll soon be free of earthly trials,
My body rest in the old churchyard.
I’ll drop this cross of self-denial;
And I’ll go singing home to God.

I’m going there to meet my Savior,
Dwell with him and never roam;
I’m only going over Jordan,
I’m only going home.

Like many American/blues spirituals, it’s a simple ABAB (verse-chorus) structure with a slight variation of the lyrics of the chorus part on each time through.



Is it just me, or should this be in 3/4?

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No, I just listened again and am pretty sure that it’s in 4. Though I don’t like the treatment given to ‘Noel McCarthy’s Jig’ on this track, the change to jig-time is what really makes it ‘take-off’, the phrases being shorter in 3’s than 4’s. American stuff can be kind of confusing; the accompaniment on the slower numbers will sometimes do a 1-2-3- 1-2-3- 1-2 number that ‘fakes’ at a waltz and results in a more ‘picture book’ type mood.

Doesn’t Summertime (Gershwin) sound like this tune?

I’m surprised there aren’t more comments about this around the web, but I find that Gershwin’s Summertime (from Porgy and Bess) sounds almost exactly like Wayfaring Stranger - certainly most of the characteristic intervals in one are found in the other.

Wikipedia says “Gershwin is said to have based this song on a Ukrainian lullaby, Oi Khodyt Son Kolo Vikon (A Dream Passes By The Windows)” but I can’t find the music to that lullaby to see if it is derived from Wayfaring Stranger too.

I think that Gershwin could have heard Wayfaring Stranger anytime after the 1890s when Tillman popularized it so successfully. But there’s no reference I can find anywhere about how close these two tunes are to each other.

Any musicologists out there with some facts on this one?

Posted by .

I love this song

Sage Wright of the Wright Kids sing this at my soda bar and it always gives me goosebumps. I did not know Jerry O’ Sullivan plays it too. I will see him this year at the Upper Potomac bagpipe weekend. I can’t wait to play it on my pipes. ;)

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Shape note tradition

Wayfaring Stranger is part of the shape note singing tradition of the south. It appears in The Sacred Harp (which refers to it as a well-known southern folk song) but strangely not before 1936 since it’s considered much older. The song plays an important part in the 2003 CIvil War movie based on Charles Frazier’s book *Cold Mountain*–music and musical authenticity were important elements of the book & film.

Gershwin’s “Summertime” and “Wayfaring Stranger”

A lot of tunes sound alike to me, because I have a tin ear, but these two didn’t sound alike at all.

Lessee, Stranger is in E minor, while Summertime is in A minor, so they’re both minor keys. That’s about they only thing they have in common.

Gershwin built his melody’s theme of a sequence of thirds around the A minor root chord - e-c-e…c-A down to E. Summertime jumps up from E to b and then steps down from there in thirds. Maybe that’s the reason they sound alike? Both use the root chord to build their theme? But I really don’t think they sound alike when I listen to them side-by-side.

Doesn’t Summertime (Gershwin) sound like this tune?

Yes, yes, yes. I heard a celtic version of this on Pandora and had to look to see what it was, because I thought it was a Celtic varation of Summertime. Is it exact? Of course not! But darn if it isn’t really close.

Re: The Wayfaring Stranger

If you want to go “back to the source”, listen to “Bill Monroe - The Wayfaring Stranger” on youtube. It will take you back to an earlier time and style.

Re: The Wayfaring Stranger

The Wayfaring Stranger appeared in an 1870 compendium “The Song-Crowned King” edited by Aldine S. Keiffer. It is item 153. “Arr. by Aldine.” Interestingly, it is in 3/2 time.

The entire book can be downloaded from The Internet Archive:

Chris Haigh demonstrates The Wayfaring Stranger in both A minor and C minor. The C minor version better shows the Summertime vibe. Stick with this video, it’s worth it: