for voice and piano (2015)
- Premiere: 12 September 2015, Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, NY / Gilda Lyons, voice; Daron Hagen, piano
- Instrumentation: voice, piano
- Duration: 7'
- Wayfaring Stranger
- Angel Band
The American folk spiritual Wayfaring Stranger is thought first to have been arranged as a hymn by John M. Dye in 1935, and may be found in The Original Sacred Harp (Denson Rev., 1936 ed.), paired with words from Bever's Christian Songster (1858). It has been reinterpreted by artists as diverse as Jerry Garcia and Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash and Anonymous 4.
I confess that, in June of 1997, when my brother Britt asked me to compose a set of variations on his favorite Mormon hymn, Poor Wayfaring Stranger, I had never heard it, and didn't care for the tune. I crafted four rather uninspired variants on it for violin and piano, sent it along to him with my love, and forgot about it. One of our final telephone conversations concerned itself in part with his account of how the little piece had gone over at his church that Sunday; he died a few days later.
Nine years later, near dusk one late afternoon in June of 2006, as my wife and I drove through the Virginia countryside on our way to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, we were suddenly gripped by the words and melody of a spiritual playing on the radio. Moreover, we realized at that moment that we had for some time been driving through hallowed ground; the First Battle of Manassas, or Bull Run — the first major battle of the American civil war — had taken place in the surrounding meadows in July of 1861. The hymn on the radio was Wayfaring Stranger. I knew then that I would return to the hymn and try to do justice not just to my brother's memory but to the wonderful folk melody that he so loved.
The result was, first, this new arrangement for voice and piano, and then my Piano Trio No. 3, for the Finisterra Piano Trio, which used the tune as the basis for an extended meditation on love and loss.
The Appalachian three-stringed Dulcimer and Bluegrass gospel hymn Angel Band was first arranged by William Batchelder Bradbury in 1862, and may be found paired with Jefferson Haskell's 1860 lyric Oh, Come, Angel Band in Bradbury's Golden Shower (1962). It has been reinterpreted by artists as diverse as Jerry Garcia and Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash and Anonymous 4.
Gilda Lyons has sung the tune to our children for years. Consequently, it figures prominently in the musical fabric of our family's life. In the course of laying the musical groundwork for my Piano Trio No. 4, also for the Finisterra Trio, a work dedicated to Joyce Ritchie Strosahl, I chose Angel Band as the hymn that would serve as the musical DNA of the expansive work. First I made this arrangement for piano and voice; then, I composed the trio. Finally, in 2012, I arranged the piano work for chamber orchestra and voice in memory of Ms. Strosahl.
In 2015 I drew from the drawer these two arrangements, which I had used only in personal performance with Gilda Lyons at various family and professional events, and put them into print. They were first performed by Gilda and I in the music room at Yaddo, in Saratoga Springs, NY, on the evening of 12 September 2015.
(Banner image: high tension electric lines in th New Mexico desert.)