I’ll Be on My Way


An inspirational memorial song that moves from a sense of sorrow into great joy.  A slow opening, sung by a soloist, captures a feeling of reverence before a light, banjo-inspired piano accompaniment launches the spirit-freeing rest of the piece.  The rising arpeggio motive on the chorus to the words “I’ll Be On My Way” fills both the singers and the audience with joy.

The standard version of this piece comes with violin and string bass, but it can be performed without them.

A licensed copy is required for each member performing.



There’s quite the backstory for this piece.

I have lived a block away from the church where I work for many years.  But for much of that time, there was no stoplight at the one busy street between me and the church.  I would carefully wait for breaks in traffic to dart across (noticing that if I happened to be wearing a suit, people would magically stop for me — but if I wore regular clothes, no such luck.)  One time (maybe in 2004), waiting at the corner, a city bus whizzed powerfully by, and I remarked to myself: “What if I weren’t paying attention some day, and got into the path of that bus?”  Looking as far down that long street as I could see — and feeling the sense of freedom one gets on the open road — my immediate response was “Well, I’d be on my way.”

Instantly, the idea for the song sprang into my mind, and on the way home I came up with the chorus: “I’ll be on my way, I’ll be on my way; I’ll have left my feet of clay upon the ground, I will be glory-bound, I’ll be on my way.”  The rest of the song soon followed, because sometimes they just come like that — fast, easily, all at once.

For a number of years after the song came into being, that street crossing remained dangerous.  People were hit, or almost hit, multiple times.  My friend Jon was knocked off of his bike.  Finally, our church’s large corner sign was damaged after yet another collision, and my pastor Susan had had it with the unnerving accidents.  Penning a letter to the city, she added that “one of our members has even written a song about being killed at this corner.”  Within a month or two the city put in a stoplight at the corner.  Finally!

When I recorded my Meet Me on the Mountain bluegrass album in 2006, I added this song as the final track, even though it dated a few years before the rest of the set.  I wanted to record it so that Dolly Parton would have a nice version to be inspired by, so she could record it herself.  I have always imagined this song as a “Dolly song,” and I still do.  Dolly, if you ever read this, it’s all yours!

Upon deeper reflection, I have felt other layers of meaning reverberating in this song.  The opening stanza has these words: “What pain there might have been will now be past, and my spirit will be whole.”  In 1998, my mother was tragically killed by a disturbed young man.  For long weeks, I “relived” her terrifying final moments.  But eventually my mind was done processing the trauma, and I could fall asleep without trouble.  It had finally dawned on me that she was no longer suffering, and I didn’t also have to keep suffering by carrying her suffering.  That is the sense beneath the songs’ words: “what pain there might have been will now be past.”  It really is possible to lay down a burden that no longer needs to be carried.

I also cherish a serendipitous moment that came about because of this song.  Myrlie Evers Williams, the Civil Rights activist and widow of Medgar Evers, happened to be at my church for a memorial service when she heard us perform this song.  I didn’t recognize her at first, but she expressed interest in the song as she came out of the sanctuary with her daughters, and I ran quickly home to get a CD for her (crossing that aforementioned street.) I found her at the reception, and accepted her invitation to sit down and join her.  We began to talk about the song, and as we both shared about the tragic death of loved ones, I suddenly realized it was her, recognizing her face from interviews I had seen.  I asked her if she was Myrlie Evers,  and she said yes.  What an honor to meet her.  We spoke about healing and spiritual freedom, and I will always cherish that special moment of connection, which would never have happened if it weren’t for that dangerous street crossing way back when.

Additional information


Baritone Solo, piano, SATB choir, piano, violin, SATB piano, SSAA piano, TTBB piano, Solo Violin, String Bass, Lead Sheet

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