Jay Ungar: The Ashokan Farewell

When New Yorkers are thirsty, they can simply turn on a faucet and pour themselves a glass of Ashokan water.

The Ashokan reservoir is a huge expanse of water some 150 miles north of the city, and not far from the spot where Jay Ungar and Molly Mason have run a ‘fiddle and dance’ camp annually for more than thirty years. (A recent New Year’s dance in the Ashokan Centre boasted ‘blues, waltzes, contras and squares’).

It all happens amid the beauty of the Catskill Mountains, not too far from Woodstock. On the last night of camp, it is traditional to play Ungar’s tune, The Ashokan Farewell, a beautiful, slightly mournful waltz, almost in the style of a lament. After it was featured in the landmark American television series The Civil War, it suddenly came to international attention.

An arrangement for the Band of HM Royal Marines by Major John Perkins proved a huge hit on Classic FM and has been frequently requested by listeners ever since. The Marines’ version is still the benchmark, building up from a haunting solo violin. To hear it in its stunningly raw original version, try Jay and Molly, on violin and guitar. The Catskills virtually appear before your eyes!

Recommended Recording

John Perkins (violin); Band of HM Royal Marines. Classic FM: CFM CD4

Illustration: Mark Millington