Tune of the Day: I Wonder as I Wander
This popular Christmas carol has its origins in a song fragment collected in 1933 by folklorist and singer John Jacob Niles. While in the town of Murphy in Appalachian North Carolina, Niles attended a fundraising meeting held by evangelicals. In his unpublished autobiography, he wrote of hearing the song:
A girl had stepped out to the edge of the little platform attached to the automobile. She began to sing. Her clothes were unbelievable dirty and ragged, and she, too, was unwashed. Her ash-blond hair hung down in long skeins... But, best of all, she was beautiful, and in her untutored way, she could sing. She smiled as she sang, smiled rather sadly, and sang only a single line of a song.
The girl repeated the fragment seven times in exchange for a quarter per performance, and Niles left with “three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material—and a magnificent idea”. Based on this fragment, Niles composed the version of “I Wonder as I Wander” that is known today, extending the lyrics to three stanzas. Since its collection, the carol has always been sung to the melody published in 1934 by Niles. Written in a minor key, its qualities of pensiveness make it one of today's most best loved Christmas tunes.