Ashokan Farewell

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"Ashokan Farewell" /əˈʃ.kænˌ/ is a piece of music composed by American folk musician Jay Ungar in 1982. For many years it served as a goodnight or farewell waltz at the annual Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camps run by Ungar and his wife Molly Mason, who gave the tune its name, at the Ashokan Field Campus of SUNY New Paltz (now the Ashokan Center) in Upstate New York.[1]

The tune was used as the title theme of the 1990 PBS television miniseries The Civil War,[2] and appeared on the 1991 compilation album Songs of the Civil War.


The piece is a waltz in D major, composed in the style of a Scottish lament (e.g., Niel Gow's "Lament for His Second Wife").[3] Jay Ungar describes the song as coming out of "a sense of loss and longing" after the annual Ashokan Music & Dance Camps ended.[3] The most famous arrangement of the piece begins with a solo violin, later accompanied by guitar and upright bass. Another arrangement, featuring Ungar, Mason, and their family band, is performed with two violins, an acoustic guitar, and a banjo, with the piece beginning with a solo violin.

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 also served as a goodnight or farewell waltz at the annual Ashokan Music & Dance Camps that Ungar and Mason run in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Ashokan was the name of a former village in the Catskill region[1] that is now mostly covered by the Ashokan Reservoir.

Use in The Civil War documentary series[edit]

In 1984, filmmaker Ken Burns heard "Ashokan Farewell" and was moved by it. He used it in two of his documentary films: Huey Long (1985), and The Civil War (1990), which features the original recording by Fiddle Fever in the beginning of the film. The Civil War drew the greatest attention to the piece. It is played 25 times throughout the eleven-hour series,[1] including during the emotional reading of Sullivan Ballou's letter to his wife in the first episode. The song underlies nearly an hour of film.

Viewers of The Civil War frequently believe the melody is a traditional tune from the Civil War era; in fact, it is the only modern composition on the film's soundtrack, as all other music is authentic 19th-century music.[1]

In the wake of the success of the series and its soundtrack album, the track was released as a single by Elektra Nonesuch, backed with the "Sullivan Ballou Letter" recording featuring narrator David McCullough and actor Paul Roebling reading the part of Ballou. It subsequently received airtime on some country music-formatted radio stations, which was timely as the United States went to war in the Persian Gulf. Elektra Nonesuch director of media relations Carol Yaple told Billboard magazine, "I think ['Ashokan Farwell'] was the theme that people could sort of attach the series identity to. However... [the series' music] is really all of the period. There's nothing sexy or contemporary about it, really, except that it was attached to that series and is good music, certainly." [4]

The song was later used in the Louie episode "The Road: Part II", where Louie dresses up in a Civil War uniform for an old-time photograph.[5]

Other versions[edit]

The song has been covered and re-recorded numerous times:

  • Country violinist Mark O'Connor released Heroes in 1993, containing an "Ashokan Farewell" duet with Pinchas Zukerman.[6]
  • 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.
  • A cover version 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 on January 13, 2006.
  • British vocal band Blake covered the song for their 2008 self-titled debut album.
  • Cape Breton fiddler Jerry Holland performed the tune on his 1992 album The Fiddlesticks Collection.
  • In the BBC America TV series Copper,[7] 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 the 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 2013 debut album Sugar&Steel.
  • On the 2013 album Strike the Tent, the Second South Carolina String Band covers the song.[8]
  • "Ashokan Farewell" as performed by solo violinist Major John Perkins of The Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines was voted no. 36 in Classic FM's (UK) 2013 Hall of Fame.[9]
  • Folk guitarist Tommy Emmanuel does a version of the song with his band which includes drumming from the Civil War time period, a standing bass, and a second harmony guitar. He also recorded it on his re-release of the album Terra Firma/Determination that he did with his brother Phil Emmanuel.
  • Burning Bridget Cleary performs "Ashokan Farewell" on their album Pressed for Time.
  • LeRoy Mack performs "Ashokan Farewell" on the album LeRoy Mack And Friends.
  • Broderick & Broderick, on their eponymous EP, include a track entitled "Ashokan Farewell".
  • The Coal Creek Boys perform "Ashokan Farewell" on their 2015 album Out West.
  • Loy Larson, master fiddler from Fargo, North Dakota, performs "Ashokan Farewell" on his 2008 album Loy Larson, On Track. Loy performs all the instruments heard in this tune and all tunes on the album.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Ungar, Jay (2012-05-20). "Ashokan Farewell FAQ". Retrieved 2015-01-04. 
  2. ^ "The Civil War . The Film . Music of the Civil War". PBS. Retrieved 2012-09-17. 
  3. ^ a b "The Music of the Civil War". PBS. Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  4. ^ DiMartino, Dave. "Instrumental Soundtracks Chime In." Billboard magazine, 16 February 1991, p. 10.
  5. ^ Silver, Stephen (May 29, 2015). "'Louie' season finale breaks out the "Ashokan Farewell'". TechnologyTell. GadgetTell LLC. Archived from the original on May 30, 2015. Retrieved May 30, 2015. 
  6. ^ Brian Mansfield. "Heroes". AllMusic. 
  7. ^ "About Copper". BBC America. Retrieved 22 December 2012. 
  8. ^ Strike the Tent CD, Gibson Recording, 2013
  9. ^

External links[edit]