who wrote ashokan farewell
Ungar composed the tune—Mason would later give it its resonant name—to commemorate the conclusion of the 1982 session of the camp. It was simple, but elegantly evocative. But it wasn’t until 1990, when documentary filmmaker Ken Burns used it as the theme for his award-winning PBS series “The Civil War,” that the tune became embedded in the American consciousness. And it wasn’t a Southern waltz; it was created in the style of a Scottish lament—and in celebration of a town, and a reservoir, in upstate New York. When you order the music it actually comes with the letter. It took Catskills fiddler Jay Ungar less than an hour to write "Ashokan Farewell," a haunting fiddle tune that has become an iconic folk song covered by legions of fans and memorably used by Ken Burns on the soundtrack of his documentary "The Civil War.". While they typically perform as a duo, Ungar and Mason do have a “family band,” which includes Ungar’s daughter Ruth Ungar and her husband, Michael Merenda. ", It took Catskills fiddler Jay Ungar less than an hour to write "Ashokan Farewell," a haunting fiddle tune that has become an iconic folk song covered by legions of fans and memorably used by Ken Burns on the soundtrack of his documentary "The Civil War. Which helped to ensure that the tune would become, like the series that propelled it to fame, an instant classic. We do all kinds of music every summer, but back then, when ‘The Civil War’ came out, after two summers it became painfully obvious, all these people being Civil War buffs, that those people who played the Southern re-enactors didn’t get along with the traditional fiddle players who were the Northern re-enactors. We divided it up into a Northern week and a Southern week, and we’ve kept it separate every year since.”. “In writing it,” he says, “I was in tears, but I didn’t know why, or what was happening.” There was a kind of “tingling feeling,” he remembers, as the song took shape in his mind and on his fiddle. They also have a swing band they call “Swingology,” which will be performing at the Ashokan Center on May 16. They treat it almost like it’s sacred.”. GREATER ROXBURY BUSINESS ASSOCIATION'S FIFTH ANNIVERSARY PARTY, The Arts Converge - Mutual Muses in the Catskills. It was more inspired by a feeling of loss and longing that I had in the weeks after one of our first fiddle and dance summer camps ended in ’82.”. “Now, it’s become pretty huge in our lives. Work at a Margaretville healing & retreat Center! It got covered on fiddle and flute and piano and acoustic guitar and electric. By a guy from the Bronx. “In writing it,” he says, “I was in tears, but I didn’t know why, or what was happening.” There was a kind of “tingling feeling,” he remembers, as the song took shape in his mind and on his fiddle. In 1984 in particular, Burns was on the lookout for songs that could serve as the soundtrack for the documentary. “We don’t travel too much in the winter, and we have all our camps in the summer, so this is the time of year we get pretty busy traveling,” he said. But when the song was written down—when Ungar was satisfied that he had made the tune what he wanted it to be—he kept it to himself. Most people who record it will tend to stay very, very close to the original. The Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains, the body of water for which the song got its name, in celebration of a town, and a reservoir, in upstate New York. He heard “Ashokan Farewell.” He got in touch with Ungar and Mason. It got played at concerts. The sun is sinking low in the sky above Ashokan. I think the letter and the music are so intertwined that I wanted to share it below. The pines and the willows know soon we will part. Ashokan Farewell Lyrics: The sun is sinking low in the sky above Ashokan / The pines and the willows know soon we will part / There's a whisper in the wind of promises unspoken / And a love that will There’s a polka version of it. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com. Above: Jay Ungar & Molly Mason perform "Ashokan Farewell." “We invite guests over and have a great time. “We had been performing ‘Ashokan Farewell’ for about six years with our band, ‘Fiddle Fever,’ and we knew it had a powerful effect on people,” said Ungar, who, along with his wife, Molly Mason, will perform at the Valatie Community Theatre in Columbia County next Saturday at 7 p.m. “But I was extremely surprised at the national interest that occurred after Ken’s series came out. ", 100 years since Catskills water came to NYC, Ashokan reservoir bridge down to one lane until fall, This weekend: Rails to the Catskills premiere, Hein: Open Space Institute to fund plans for Ashokan rail trail, Holiday Shopping at the Huichol Art Gallery. It was played in its entirety during a particular poignant section of the film, the reading of the Sullivan Ballou Letter after the Second Battle of Manassas. Jay Ungar & Molly Mason perform "Ashokan Farewell. Although Ashokan Farewell sounds as if it were a traditional tune that was played at the time of the Civil War, it was actually composed composed by Jay Ungar in 1982. While Ungar was already a fairly successful musician, the song changed his life. Ungar, who turns 69 this fall, isn’t yet tired of touring and performing live for his fans. The latest news delivered directly to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. Christopher Shaw captures the Adirondacks and beyond in new novel, At Niskayuna home, a howlin' good time awaits trick-or-treaters. “Yet, within the context of the series it seemed so authentic. But when he was finally ready to share the tune, he was pleasantly surprised: It seemed to affect others as deeply as it had affected him. “I got contacted by newspapers around the country,” said Ungar, who has also worked on other Burns’ documentaries, including “Lewis and Clark,” “The Roosevelts,” and “The Dust Bowl.”, “I was interviewed by The New York Times and the Philadelphia Enquirer, and I did a bunch of morning TV shows. It’s haunting and mournful and hopeful and beautiful. It had nothing to do with the Civil War when I wrote it. It was named for the Ashokan summer camp, as well as the Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster county and the drowned town of the same name beneath the reservoir's waters: [I]t was created in the style of a Scottish lament—and in celebration of a town, and a reservoir, in upstate New York. Jay Ungar’s “Ashokan Farewell” sounded so much like a 19th century melody that even he developed some doubts about its origin. The series ran from Sept. 23-27 in 1990 and was viewed by a record 40 million people. By a guy from the Bronx. The song is played in the film 25 times. “I first heard this extraordinary piece of music on an album called ‘Fiddle Fever’ and instantly knew how good it was,” Burns said in an email from his office in Walpole, New Hampshire. And so Ungar and Mason—and their group, Fiddle Fever—recorded the song, including it as part of their 1983 album Waltz of the Wind. Reserved. When the documentary The Civil War debuted 25 years ago, it gave a new life—and old history—to a gorgeous melody. “It’s the only piece of music in the film that wasn’t written in the 19th century,” said Ungar. “I don’t know. “Ashokan Farewell” was not, as both its tune and the miniseries that made it famous would seem to suggest, written in the 19th century. He wasn’t sure how others would react to it. “I think it’s a great thing. For Ungar, the fact that “a Scottish lament written by a Jewish guy from the Bronx” would become the de facto anthem of The Civil War—and, by extension, of the Civil War itself—makes a certain amount of sense. Connecting with their audience is something Ungar and Mason do quite well, according to Melinda Perrin, director of A Place for Folk, which puts on concerts at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady. Described by Ungar as “a Scottish lament written by a Jewish boy from the Bronx,” the song earned him an Emmy nomination and a Grammy for the soundtrack album. It was written instead at the tail end of the 20th. The song starts out with a mournful violin solo from Ungar, who is later accompanied by a guitar and upright bass. “A number of people made it their goal to prove that the song had existed and that I really didn’t write it,” he said. It is one of the most poetic, patriotic, and powerful expressions of love set to paper. Burns certainly included himself in that group. “Ashokan Farewell” seemed so authentic that some people were convinced it was material that Ungar had dug up somewhere and tweaked to make it his own. He wanted something more celebratory, too: “The tune,” he says, “was my attempt to get back to a feeling of connectedness.”. Along with their touring, Ungar and Mason do a monthly show on WAMC-Northeast Public Radio, “Dancing on the Air,” which is broadcast the second Wednesday of each month. The emotion that comes through in the final version was there for Ungar, too. The phone rang off the hook. Twenty-five years after he wrote it, Ungar says the song is still well-received when he and Mason tour the country together performing acoustic folk music. Jay Ungar’s “Ashokan Farewell” sounded so much like a 19th century melody that even he developed som. It’s very homey.”. (Ungar and Mason still run dance and fiddle camps at the Ashokan Center, in Olivebridge, today.). There’s a whisper in the wind of promises unspoken, And a love that will always remain in my heart. The inclusion meant that the song would need a name. I don’t know the right word, but it bordered on being disturbing at times.”. The group hosted a performance by Ungar and Mason last March, and the pair will open A Place for Folk’s 2015 fall season at the UUSS on Oct. 9. “Maybe after an hour or so,” he recalls, “I put it away and then listened.”.

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