October 1, 2007

"Ashokan Farewell"

Ashokan Reservoir

Ken Burns' latest, The War, is missing its "Ashokan Farewell," the musical glue/theme of The Civil War. Burns and Wynton Marsalis have come close with "Until I'm In Your Arms Again," but it just doesn't pack the emotional punch of "Ashokan Farewell." Composer Jay Unger describes it's birth (from his site):

"Ashokan Farewell" 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.

I composed "Ashokan Farewell" in 1982 shortly after our 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. The transition from living at 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, had been difficult. 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 effect others in the same way.

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