Travis Wesley

Pianist, Recording Artist, Recording Engineer, Composer, Educator & Musicologist

Month: August 2015

Origins of “Amazing Grace” An Overview

Posted on August 24, 2015  in Music Education, Writings

We all know the song “Amazing Grace” I’m sure. But, did you know this was how it originally sounded in the early days? Tim Eriksen here is singing it solo, along with his banjo, but it was also practiced like this in the old form of shape note singing (in congregations throughout the colonies) that I talk about in one of my essays on Daniel Read on my own blog found on my website. If you’ve ever seen the movie Cold Mountain, you wouldn’t have seen Eriksen, but you would have heard him on songs like “I Wish My Baby Was Born.” Here’s America’s original, raw, organic version of “Amazing Grace,” that haunted the colonies in the 1600s and 1700s, then sadly after a musical reformation (spearheaded by European composers and musicians true to the old ways of musical composition, who deemed this way of singing improper by their standards backed by Europe’s centuries of musical development from composers such as Bach to Mozart to Beethoven to Chopin to Debussy and beyond), made its way down to the southern states around the time of our Civil War. Even down south now, this version and way of singing for that matter, is pretty rare. Except to mountain folk and a select few congregations in the deep south. We need to reclaim this kind of worship music as our own. It’s part of our culture, and therefore musical heritage. It’s not just a southern thing but actually a northern thing too that could serve as a commonality between us. Especially during a crucial time in our nation’s history where we seem to need it. One of the goals of this musical practice was to make it accessible to every man and every woman. They didn’t have to be musicians to partake. Hence the shape note notation and even a different, simpler solfege system (again, check out my blog at and access the article on Daniel Read’s “Sherburne” for more insight into this musical tradition). And, that’s what made it indigenous to America’s culture. There’s lots of good stuff out there on YouTube of Tim Eriksen. “Wayfaring Stranger” trumps Jack Black’s version in my opinion. I still love ya Jack!, just my personal opinion. You’re version is pretty killer too!!! And, I loved your role in the film Cold Mountain. You can also find me on Youtube trying my hand at some of this stuff with my banjo. Keep in mind I’m a jazz pianist who has only been playing this music on the banjo, dulcimer & guitar for about a year and a half now. :) Enjoy y’all. Pretty deep. Any questions, please ask!  Tim Eriksen has a Ph.D in Musicology from Wesleyan University  (in Connecticut), a professor, active performer and has traveled the world collecting folk songs and tying them back to America’s deep and complex folk roots.


Since I mentioned in this post, here’s Tim Eriksen singing “Wayfaring Stranger” along with his “banjer”