A Song I Love – Ashokan Farewell

In 1990, a documentary by Ken Burns called The Civil War was broadcast on American TV. Over and above the quality of the show as a great insight into that particularly disastrous war, there was a song played frequently on the soundtrack called “Ashokan Farewell.” It is so haunting and so evocative of music of that era that everyone assumes it was composed in the 1860’s.

But in fact, the song was composed by a folk musician named Jay Ungar in 1982. And the Ashhokan that they are bidding farewell to is that year’s Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camp in upstate New York, maybe 100 miles north of New York City. (Near as I can tell, this event is still held.)

Per The Atlantic, “Ungar had traveled through Scotland earlier in the summer and he wanted to compose a tune in the style of a Scottish lament—something that would capture the sense of sadness that the camp, and all the camaraderie and community and joy it represented to him, would be ending. He wanted something more celebratory, too: “The tune,” he says, “was my attempt to get back to a feeling of connectedness.””

So here is “Ashokan Farewell,” a lament so beautiful and haunting that, by his own account, it brought its author to tears.

6 thoughts on “A Song I Love – Ashokan Farewell

  1. This is one of the reasons I tune in to ‘Jim’s Place’. Out of left field and absolutely beautiful. CB has the soundtrack but did not dig into the history of this tune. You educate me again. Love it. CB is a big fan of KB and all his work. ‘The Civil War’ is an absolute fantastic piece of work and the soundtrack is great.


    1. I like that you are a person who appreciates what he hears. As to “Ashokan,” I think pretty much everybody assumed it was a Civil War-era number. Almost disappointing to find it’s not. But it’s a beautiful tune for sure.

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      1. It’s kind of cool that someone in modern times was plugged into the vibe. So much good music floating around. No excuse for not finding great music like this. Just need people like yourself to bring it out into the light. Good ear Jim.

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        1. CB, you might want to go back to the Enthusiast future to read about a band we were talking about just the other day. When U get a chance.

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