Posts Tagged ‘molly mason’

This is the story of how a song saved a cultural center in the Catskills.

Dennis Gaffney writes for the NY Times that at a recent celebration of success,  “Jay Ungar, a fiddler wearing a black vest and hiking boots, and his wife, Molly Mason, playing guitar, stood on a stage in a barnlike performance hall that did not exist a year ago. ‘Can you stand to hear this tune one more time?’ he asked the audience. …

“The tune is ‘Ashokan Farewell,’ the bittersweet lament familiar to millions as the theme song that the filmmaker Ken Burns used for the emotional crescendos of his Civil War series. But most do not know that Mr. Ungar’s moving hymn helped save the Catskill place that inspired the song, resulting in the Ashokan Center, a $7.25 million campus here dedicated to traditional music, Catskill history, environmental education, and local arts and crafts. …

“Many still assume that Mr. Ungar wrote ‘Ashokan Farewell’ with the Civil War in mind. But he wrote it on a September morning in 1982, after the end of his third Ashokan summer music and dance camp on this property, which the State University of New York at New Paltz owned and had used since 1967 as a field campus for environmental education.

“ ‘I left on a cloud of utopian euphoria,’ Mr. Ungar said of that summer. ‘You try to keep it alive, but it evaporates.’ ”

The song went on to have a life of its own, and Ungar even performed it at the White House. NY Gov. Pataki had heard it, too, and when a dismayed Unger contacted him about the pending sale of the Ashokan Center in Olivebridge,  the governor took action.

Soon a lot of people were on board, with the wistful song always at the heart of their efforts.

Writes Gaffney, “Mr. Ungar has come to believe that his song, like a traditional hymn, evokes much more than loss. In the mid-1990s, he got an e-mail from a man in Africa who said he was driving in his car when he heard ‘Ashokan Farewell’ on the radio. ‘He started crying uncontrollably and he had to pull off the road,’ Mr. Ungar recalled. ‘He said that in his culture, after the age of 10, men don’t cry, but he needed to cry.’ ”


Photo: Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times
Jay Ungar and Molly Mason playing “Ashokan Farewell” at the Ashokan Center.

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