Introduced by Katy German
One of my favorite things about the folk process is the way a song can reemerge in different forms over time. Whether accidental or intentional, changing some portion of melody or words can suddenly give a song new life and depth.
This song is a beautiful example. The melody is a simple and beautiful 19th century hymn, with alternative words from Eastern Kentucky singer and storyteller Randy Wilson. Randy kept the melody and some of the poetry from the traditional version, but mixed in phrases and language to give it a more universal spiritual appeal.
I first heard Randy sing his version of Farther On about a decade ago at Hindman Settlement School in Hindman, KY. At the time I thought it was a clever rewording and recognized its appeal as a soulful yet easy group singing option.
What I have found since then, though, is that this is the song that rises to my mind every single time I am feeling discouraged or low on hope. It is a meditation for my soul when I am feeling derailed. I asked Randy what inspired this version and he replied, “I liked the chorus and wanted to make a spiritual out of it, with repetition so that folks could join in easily.”
I guess sometimes it’s just as simple as that. Here is one of the traditional arrangements, along with Randy’s alternative lyrics. I’ve included both versions so that the readers and singers can enjoy it in more than one incarnation. And Randy, thank you for this beautiful song.
Music: Traditional (not the first image)
New words: Randy Wilson, a musician, songwriter, and storyteller from Eastern, KY
Oh dear brothers, are you weary with the roughness of the way?
Search your soul and plant a seedling. Stir the ashes, seize the day.
Farther on, still go farther. Count the milestones one by one.
There’s a light that leads us onward. It is better farther on.
(Repeat, replacing “brothers” with sisters, mothers, fathers, children, etc.)
Here’s a version of the song by the Alaska String Band:
Katy German is a CDSS Board member living in Asheville, NC. She loves community singing and introducing children, families, and first-timers to country dance traditions.