Monday, December 20, 2010

December 21

I Wonder As I Wander
performed by The Cambridge Singers

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die,
For poor orn'ry people like you and like I,
I wonder as I wander, ... out under the sky;

When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all,
And high from God's heaven a star's light did fall,
And the promise of the ages, ... they then did recall;

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God's angels in heaven to sing,
He surely could've had it... 'cause he was the King.

This carol is attributed to American folk singer John Jacob Niles, who collected it on July 16, 1933. In his words:

" 'I Wonder As I Wander' grew out of three lines of music sung to me by a girl who called herself Annie Morgan. The Place was Murphy, North Carolina, and the time was July, 1933. The Morgan family, revivalists all, were about to be ejected by the police, having camped in the town square for some little time, cooking, washing, hanging their wash from the Confederate monument, and generally conducting themselves in such a way as to be considered a public nuisance. Preacher Morgan and his wife pled poverty; they had to hold one more meeting in order to buy enough gas to get out of town.

It was then that Annie Morgan came out-- a tousled, unwashed blonde, and very lovely. She sang the first three lines of the verse of 'I Wonder As I Wander'. At twenty-five cents a performance, I tried to get her to sing all the song. After eight tries, all of which are carefully recorded in my notes, I had only three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material-- and a magnificent idea. With the writing of additional verses and the development of of the original melodic material, 'I Wonder As I Wander' came into being. I sang it for five years in my concerts before it caught on. Since then it has been sung by soloists and choral groups, wherever the English language is spoken or sung."

Annie Morgan was persuaded to sing the fragment of music over and over, at the price of twenty-five cents per "performance". Considering the astoundingly beautiful carol that eventually came into being because of it, this payment would seem to be a bargain at any price. But, it is important to be mindful of the economic situation of the "Dirty Thirties"... The sum that Ms. Morgan was paid for her singing would have been enormously helpful to her family's impoverished situation, during this period of the Depression. This meeting of the two musicians was fortuitous for both, as well as for us.

Because of the way in which the composition of this piece came about, many singers and listeners initially claimed to be "confused" about its authorship, and tried to declare it "anonymous" in origin. Mr. Niles eventually undertook several lawsuits, in order to have the song formally declared as his own work.

"I Wonder As I Wander" was completed on October 4, 1933. Mr. Niles first performed the song on December 19, 1933, at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. It was originally published in Songs of the Hill Folk in 1934.

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