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"Ashokan Farewell" is a piece of music composed by Jay Ungar in 1982. It has served as a goodnight or farewell waltz at the annual Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camps, run by the composer and his wife (Molly Mason, who gave the tune its name) at the lakefront campus (near Ashokan Reservoir) of the State University of New York at New Paltz. The tune was later used as the title theme of the 1990 PBS television miniseries The Civil War, as well as the 1991 compilation album Songs of the Civil War.
The piece is a waltz in D major, composed by Jay Ungar in the style of a Scottish lament (e.g., Niel Gow's "Lament for his second wife"). Jay Ungar describes the song coming out of "a sense of loss and longing" after the annual Ashokan Music & Dance Camps ended. The most famous arrangement of the piece begins with a solo violin, later accompanied by guitar and upright bass.
Before its use as the television series theme, "Ashokan Farewell" was recorded on Waltz of the Wind, the second album by the band Fiddle Fever. The musicians included Ungar and Mason. It has served as a goodnight or farewell waltz at the annual Ashokan Music & Dance Camps that Ungar and Mason run at the Ashokan Center in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
Use in Civil War TV series
In 1984, filmmaker Ken Burns heard "Ashokan Farewell" and was moved by it. He used it in two of his films: The Civil War, which features the original recording by Fiddle Fever in the beginning of the film, and his 1985 documentary Huey Long.
The Civil War drew the most national attention to the piece. It is played 25 times throughout the eleven-hour series, including during the emotional reading of Sullivan Ballou's letter to his wife in the first episode; it underlies nearly an hour of film.
Viewers of The Civil War frequently believe the melody is a traditional tune from the Civil War era, however it is the only modern composition on the documentary's soundtrack; all other music is authentic 19th-century music.
Bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice covered "Ashokan Farewell" on his 1994 release Live.
In 1994, Priscilla Herdman also released "Ashokan Farewell" on Forever and Always, with lyrics by Grian Mac Gregor. Both Jay Ungar and Molly Mason accompanied her.
It appears on Chuck Leavell's 2001 solo piano recording Forever Blue.
Time for Three covered "Ashokan Farewell" on We Just Burned this for You recorded live at Bowling Green State University in Ohio January 13, 2006.
The British vocal band, Blake, also covered "Ashokan Farewell" in their 2008 self-titled debut album.
In the BBC America TV series, "Copper" a key prop — a pocket watch that is a major clue in a murder — plays a version of "Ashokan Farewell." The television show takes place in Five Points of New York City in 1864, almost 120 years before the tune was written.
Electric violinist Bridgid Bibbens covered "Ashokan Farewell" on her debut album Sugar&Steel released in 2013.
On the 'Strike the Tent" CD, released in 2013, the Second South Carolina String Band, covers the song "Ashokan Farewell".
"Ashokan Farewell", performed by The Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, solo violinist Major John Perkins, was voted no. 36 in Classic FM's (UK) 2013 Hall of Fame.
Folk guitarist Tommy Emmanuel does a version of Ashokan Farewell with his band which includes the drumming from the Civil War time period, a standing bass, and a second harmony guitar. He also recorded it on his rerelease of the album Terra Firma/Determination that he did with his brother Phil Emmanuel.
- "The Civil War . The Film . Music of the Civil War". PBS. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
- "The Music of the Civil War". PBS. Retrieved 2013-08-31.
- Ungar, Jay (2012-05-20). "Ashokan Farewell FAQ". Retrieved 2012-09-17.
- "About Copper". BBC America. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- Strike the Tent CD, Gibson Recording, 2013