Back in 1982, after his old time Ashokan Fiddle and dance Camp in the Catskill Mountains had just wrapped up, fiddler Jay Ungar decided to play something on his fiddle to capture the emotions he was feeling. As he describes it:
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.
I know this feeling very well.
The tune he wrote that day would later be named Ashokan Farewell.
Little could he have known that, with such humble beginnings, this tune would later become the focal musical piece in the most watched PBS series of all time: The Civil War, by Ken Burns. Ultimately, this tune, and this series, would become inextricably and forever linked (so much so that most folks think this to be a Civil War era tune).
Little could he have known that the tune would soon be recognized throughout the world, that it would go on to inspire countless “cover” versions.
Little could he have known that it would become the most popular “fiddle tune” of its time, arguably of all time.
But that’s just what happened in this unlikely story of a tune about an old-time music camp.
aDADE tuning, Brainjo level 3-4
Notes on the arrangement: The original version of this tune has a lot of open space, which with clawhammer banjo we create largely by using skip notes. So you’ll find plenty of these sprinkled throughout. These are indicated by the notes in parentheses in the tab (for a detailed video all about skip notes and their many uses, go here).
Whether or not you choose to play or skip those notes is your own aesthetic decision. In my first run through of the tune in the video, I skipped them all. In the second run through, I put some of them back in, and I think you’ll notice there the sound is more distinctively that of clawhammer banjo.
All in all, it’s nice to have options.
For more on reading tabs in general, check out this complete guide to reading banjo tabs.