Words and Music collected by John Jacob Niles
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’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.
But high from God‘s heaven a star’s light did fall,
And the promise of ages it 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 heav’n for to sing,
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King.
Collected by John Jacob Niles in Murphy, NC in July 1933 from a young traveling evangelist Annie Morgan. According to Niles, he asked her to sing the song repeatedly until he had memorized it. It was published in his 1934 Songs of the Hill-Folk. Written in a minor key, it’s qualities of pensiveness make it one of today’s most popular carols.
A contemporary arrangement of this traditional Appalachian carol by Carl Rütti (1949 – ) has been recorded several times. It is found on “One Star, At Last: A Selection of Carols of Our Time,” performed by the BBC Singers directed by Stephen Cleobury. It is also found on “Illuminare: Carols for a New Millennium,” recorded by the Choir of Eton College.
In addition, this arrangement was performed at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, 2002.
Finally, there contemporary arrangement of this carol by Carl Rütti (1949 – ). It is found in a medley, “Three Carols,” on his CD “Sermon On The Mount,” performed by the Escorial Choir under the direction of by Christopher Duarte (2001). In the liner notes, Rütti writes “The Three Carols were initiated in 1996 by my friend Stephen Jackson (conductor of the BBC Symphony Chorus) for a Carol concert by the Wooburn Singers, to whom they are also dedicated. They were originally written for brass quintet and choir. I picked three texts out of the enormous choice of traditional Carols which could form three parts: Andante – Adagio – Presto.”