was composed by Jay
Ungar in 1982. The piece is a waltz in the style of a Scottish
lament (e.g., Niel Gow's "Lament for His Second Wife").
It’s haunting and mournful and hopeful and beautiful.
the story behind the tune from the composer:
was named for Ashokan, a camp in the Catskill Mountains not far
from Woodstock, New York. It’s the place where Molly Mason and I
have run the Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camps for adults and
families since 1980.
Ashokan is the name of a town,
most of which is now under a very beautiful and magical body of
water called the Ashokan Reservoir. I’ve heard it pronounced a-shó-kun,
a-shó-kan, or sometimes ásh-o-kán. The reservoir provides
drinking water for New York City one hundred miles to the south.
The late Alf Evers, our local
historian, once told me that the name Ashokan first appeared as
a place name in 17th century Dutch records. He thought it was
probably a corruption of a local Lenape Indian word meaning, “a
good place to fish.” That it is!
in 1982 shortly after our Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camps had come
to an end for the season. I was feeling a great sense of loss
and longing for the music, the dancing and the community of
people that had developed at Ashokan that summer. I was having
trouble making the transition from a secluded woodland camp with
a small group of people who needed little excuse to celebrate
the joy of living, back to life as usual, with traffic,
newscasts, telephones and impersonal relationships. 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.
was written in the style of a Scottish lament. I sometimes
introduce it as, “a Scottish lament written by a Jewish guy from
the Bronx.” I lived in the Bronx until the age of sixteen.
our band, Fiddle Fever, was recording its second album,
Waltz of the Wind,
and we needed another slow tune. We tried my yet unnamed lament.
The arrangement came together in the studio very quickly with a
beautiful guitar solo by Russ Barenberg, string parts by Evan
Stover and upright bass by Molly Mason. Now it needed a name.
Molly suggested the title,
It seemed right to me.
Ken Burns heard the album in 1984 and was immediately taken by
He soon asked to use it in his upcoming PBS series
The Civil War.
The original Fiddle Fever recording is heard at the opening of
the film, and this and other versions are heard twenty five
times for a surprising total of 59 minutes and 33 seconds of the
eleven hour series. Molly and I, along with members of Fiddle
Fever and pianist Jacqueline Schwab played much of the 19th
century music heard throughout the soundtrack.
is the only contemporary tune that was used.
– Jay Ungar
Of all the
versions on YouTube, this is my favorite:
here’s is my transcription of the tune. I don’t think I’ve ever
played the embellishments the same twice so feel free to edit.