Ashokan Farewell was written by the American folk musician and composer Jay Ungar (born 1946). Jay and his wife, Molly Mason, run the Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camp not far from Woodstock, New York and it was at the conclusion of the 1982 workshop – feeling deeply emotional and rather unsettled by the thought of an imminent return to life’s hectic normality – that Jay felt inspired to write the piece. He later recalled that, “By the time the tune took form, I was in tears. I kept it to myself for months, unable to fully understand the emotions that welled up whenever I played it. I had no idea that this simple tune could affect others in the same way.”
Ashokan Farewell is, indeed, both a profoundly simple and hauntingly heartfelt waltz, which Ungar sometimes introduces as, “a Scottish lament written by a Jewish guy from the Bronx.” When the film director Ken Burns heard the piece he was immediately so moved by it that he decided to use it extensively in his highly successful 1990 TV documentary, The Civil War. Since then Ashokan Farewell has enjoyed substantial recognition and immense popularity in its own right and is constantly in demand at celebrations of all kinds.
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