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Wayfaring Stranger

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Christopher M. Nelson

Traditional, setting by Christopher M. Nelson

General Info

Year: 2015
Duration: c. 4:30
Difficulty: IV (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: C. Alan Publications
Cost: Score and Parts (print) - $89.00   |   Score Only (print) - $18.00


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II
English Horn
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
String Bass
Piano (optional)
Harp (optional)
Percussion I-II-III, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Bell Tree
  • Bells
  • Chimes
  • Crotales
  • Marimba
  • Suspended Cymbal
  • Vibraphone
  • Wind Chimes


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Wayfaring Stranger is a setting of the American folk spiritual known as Poor Wayfaring Stranger. While many versions of the lyrics to this tune exist, they all tell the story of a traveler who makes his way on a journey despite a rough road, difficult circumstances, and gathering darkness. He does this, the lyrics say, for the promise of green pastures and a reunion with his father and mother at journey’s end. This setting is intended to convey not only the difficulty experienced by the traveler, but also the resolve which is displayed as he moves forward despite hardship, and disappointment. Wayfaring Stranger is offered as a sort of resolute battle hymn for anyone who must endure a long journey of challenge and trial before the promised green pastures can be enjoyed.

- Program Note from publisher

An imaginative setting of the folk tune Poor Wayfaring Stranger, this piece was written for Dr. Danh T. Pham and the Washington State University Symphonic Wind Ensemble, who premiered the work on campus in October 2014. Christopher Nelson’s innovative orchestration utilizes earthy woodwinds, marimba, and distant chimes to convey a sense of wandering and distance. The piece culminates in a full, lush “Alleluia” section before drifting off at its conclusion.

- Program Note from Shujitsu Junior and Senior High School Wind Ensemble concert program, 17 December 2015

The Wayfaring Stranger (also known as Poor Wayfaring Stranger or I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger), Roud 3339, is a well-known American folk song likely originating in the early 19th century about a plaintive soul on the journey through life. As with most folk songs, many variations of the lyrics exist and many versions of this song have been published over time by popular singers, often being linked to times of hardship and notable experiences in the singers' lives.

According to the book The Makers of the Sacred Harp, by David Warren Steel and Richard H. Hulan, the lyrics were published in 1858 in Joseph Bever's Christian Songster, which was a collection of popular hymns and spiritual songs of the time. Steel and Hulan suggest the song was derived from an 1816 German-language hymn, Ich bin ein Gast auf Erden by Isaac Niswander.

During and for several years after the American Civil War, the lyrics were known as the Libby Prison Hymn. This was because the words had been inscribed by a dying Union soldier incarcerated in Libby Prison, a warehouse converted to a notorious Confederate prison in Richmond, Virginia, known for its adverse conditions and high death rate.

Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.

- Program Note from Wikipedia


State Ratings

  • Texas: IV. Complete


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • West Virginia University (Morgantown) Symphonic Band (Cheldon Williams, conductor) - 8 April 2021
  • Texas Christian University (Fort Worth) Wind Symphony (Bobby Francis, conductor) - 13 October 2020
  • Hartwick College (Oneonta, N.Y.) Wind Ensemble (James Dana, conductor) – 19 November 2019
  • Atlanta (Ga.) Youth Wind Symphony (Scott A. Stewart, conductor) – 19 May 2019
  • Arkansas Tech University (Russellville) Symphonic Band (Jim Daughters, conductor) – 7 March 2019
  • Triangle Wind Ensemble (Cary, N.C.) (Evan Feldman, conductor) – 9 November 2018
  • Texas Tech University (Lubbock) Symphonic Band (Ryan Smith, conductor) – 23 September 2018
  • University of Kentucky (Lexington) Symphony Band (George Boulden, conductor) - 16 September 2018
  • University of Colorado Boulder Symphonic Band (Matthew Roeder, conductor)– 18 April 2018
  • Indiana University (Bloomington) Wind Ensemble (Stephen W. Pratt, conductor) – 15 April 2018
  • University of Texas (Austin) Symphony Band (Ryan S. Kelly, conductor) – 19 February 2018
  • Prairie Wind Ensemble (East Peoria, Ill.) (Jim Tallman, conductor)– 22 October 2017
  • World Youth Wind Orchestra Project (Schladming, Aus.) (Kevin Sedatole, conductor) – 16 July 2017
  • Mount Vernon (Wash.) High School Wind Ensemble (Jacob Scherr, conductor) - 15 April 2017, Nat'l Band & Orchestra Festival, Carnegie Hall
  • Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah) Wind Symphony (Don L. Peterson, conductor) – 8 April 2017
  • University of North Carolina, Greensboro, University Band (William L. Lake, conductor) – 1 March 2017
  • Tallahassee (Florida) Winds (David Plack, conductor) – 22 November 2016
  • Joliet (Ill.) West High School (Eric Wellman, conductor) – 28 April 2016
  • Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah) Symphonic Band (Christopher M. Nelson, conductor) – 29 March 2016
  • Shujitsu Junior & Senior High School Wind Ensemble (Okayama, Japan) (Ray E. Cramer, conductor) - 17 December 2015 (2015 Midwest Clinic)
  • University Laboratory School (Pullman, Wash.) Symphonic Band (Danh Pham, conductor) – 11 December 2014

Works for Winds by This Composer