Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dear "Ashokan Farewell"

Dear "Ashokan Farewell,"

I have mentioned in the past that there are some pieces of music that just magically conjure up tears in my eyes, quiver my skin with waves of prickles, or make me inhale the slowest yet fullest breathes.  You are one of them.

I first heard "Ashokan Farewell" in the title theme of the 1990 PBS television miniseries, The Civil War.  This haunting tune matched the 'loss and gain' sentiments of the show so beautifully.  It was composed by Jay Ungar in 1982 as a farewell waltz at the Ashokan Dance and Fiddle Camps near the Ashokan Reservoir.  This piece is a waltz in D major, written in the style of a Scottish lament, and played by a violin and accompanied by a guitar (Wikipedia).  The video above is the most breathtaking rendition I found.

The music is eerily nostalgic, with sad overtones and promising undertones.  The best words I can find to describe it is 'hopeful melancholy'. The duo in the video is Doc and the Lady (Mark Allen and Kelly Roper Iverson).  I am in complete awe of Iverson's union with the violin.  The graceful movements of her long and slender arms and fingers juxtaposed with precise control of her instrument is such an exquisite sight to watch.  Allen's subtle accompaniment with his guitar is quiet and understated, until he becomes the lead instrument, and produces staccato sounds ever so elegantly as his partner.  The performers end the piece with resounding and unadulterated tenderness. 

Sometimes I listen to this with my eyes closed.

She walks from the bus stop to where she lives, alone.  But at the tender age of four, being alone is daunting.  In order to deny the loneliness surrounding her as she walks, she imagines that the next house is her destination.  She passes that one, so the next house is her destination.  That continues until she reaches the house, where, once encased inside walls and familiar people, relief enters her tired body and takes away her fear of solitude.


She knew she had to leave her life behind.  Her school, her teacher, her friends, her home.  She will not see them again for a long time.  The last days before her departure were hard.  She tried to take in all that was familiar to her.  She snapped still photos with her eyes and filed them away inside her head.  She was ready to go to a new place to live a new life.  She trusted that she'll be all right.


It was an overcast day at her college graduation.  In the amphitheater sat hundreds of people with flowers and balloons cheering on their loved ones.  She looked at all the families that were present, feeling an emptiness.  But the most important person was there for her.  And she was proud of her walk across the stage.  'I did it!" she said quietly to herself.


It seemed like the more she wanted to be a mom, the more she was seeing baby bumps in public rounding against her own flat belly.  The surgery, and the meds, shots, bruises, blood draws were all sad reminders of what her body was not capable of doing.  She did not want to resign.  She believed that her time will come.  She believed that it will happen.  


There is a vacancy in her heart, as there always had been.  Some things will never change.  But she has made peace with that, and she will envelop herself with the love that she has in her life.  Love that will wrap around the hole, hiding it, disguising, it, and engulfing it.  Quiet harmony is all she asks.  Ordinary serenity is all she wants.  

'Hopeful melancholy'. 

"Ashokan Farewell," you are an amazing piece of music.  There is so much soulful emotions that you convey.  Sad, but loaded with glimmers of optimism.  Perhaps it's the hopefulness that I truly appreciate in you.  Everyone has sad tales to tell, but you are a gentle reminder that sadness has its place in life, as does the hope that surfaces once the sorrow washes away.



  1. Oh that gave me goosebumps. I was so impressed by your musical knowledge until you mentioned the Wikipedia part ;) I'm still impressed. And oh those are some heartbreaking glimpses. This is the perfect song for all those.

  2. Michelle, Haha! The only part I knew before Wikipedia were the PBS Civil War TV series and that duo is named Doc and the Lady. But it was definitely worth the look up. Yes, lots of goosebumps!

  3. Truly enjoyed every bit! superb video! Farewell Letters

  4. I seemed to have found this song and Doc and the Lady via much the same path that you did.

    I encourage you to watch their version on Youtube called '"Ashokan Farewell" at Cowboy poetry'.

    In 100 years I'll bet that someone, somewhere will be trying to match this performance.

    1. Thank you for telling me about the Cowboy Poetry version of this song. Again, goosebumps all over. I'm pretty sure many are trying to match this performance as we speak. The song is beautiful, and the duo is amazing. Thank you for stopping by!