WEST BRATTLEBORO >> Described as one of the most celebrated duos in American acoustic music representing the heart and soul of American roots music, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason will be at the Congregational Church in West Brattleboro on Saturday in a long overdue return to the area where in the past they have performed at Brattleboro's Dawn Dances and held concerts at Brattleboro's Congregational Church and at the Latchis Theatre. They have many ties to dancers and musicians from our area here who have attended annual Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camps that they have run since the late 1970s in Ashokan N.Y. These camps offer an intensive environment to learn folk music of many kinds with some of the most well-known instructors in the nation including Mary Lea of the Brattleboro Dawn Dance Committee.
According to Lea, "Under their leadership, they brought together top musicians to teach vocal and dance music as well as dancing traditions from Appalachia, the deep South, and Cajun country, northern roots traditions such as Quebecois, Cape Breton, New England, Irish and Scandinavian, as well as Swing and Country music. Thousands of people, from very young to very old, have gained skills on their instruments, danced to different kinds of traditional music, and learned about the rich, varied musical traditions of our country. Jay and Molly's leadership in these community enterprises have galvanized many people by now and have had a huge impact on creating the vibrant folk music scene that we see today. They are still at its epicenter.
Ungar, fiddler and singer, is originally from the Bronx, and Mason, guitarist, pianist and singer, is originally from the Portland. Or. area. They met at a folk club in upstate New York in 1977, Mason moved east in 1980 to join Ungar's band Fiddle Fever. That band disbanded in the late '80s then Ungar and Molly married in 1991, performing as a duo. These days they often unite with their daughter Ruth Ungar, and her husband Mike Merenda, also known as the duo Mike + Ruthie, as the Jay Ungar & Molly Mason's Family Band.
Ungar and Mason's concerts have continued to appeal to audiences of all ages since rising to international fame in 1990 following their contribution of historically correct fiddle music for the soundtrack of Ken Burns' "The Civil War" PBS series. Ungar's composition Ashokan Farewell was the musical hallmark of the series, winning a Grammy and nominated for an Emmy. On radio and television, they have appeared on CBS Good Morning, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, All Things Considered, A Prairie Home Companion, and the BBC's Transatlantic Sessions, have had the honor of performing at the White House for two sitting Presidents. They continue to broadcast their own live-performance radio show, Dancing on the Air, and tour extensively delighting audiences across the U.S.
Among their well-known compositions is the title track of The Lovers' Waltz, an album of romantic fiddle music from Appalachian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Klezmer, and Swing traditions. "Harvest Home," a 1999 release on Angel Records, culminates in their 20-minute orchestral work, The Harvest Home Suite, in which they are joined by the Nashville Chamber Orchestra. With "Relax your Mind" (Angel Records), Ungar and Mason, with their band Swingology, take a slightly different direction: American dance music with a focus on country blues and swing. Included are more of the beautiful waltzes that have become their signature pieces. Their compositions of contemporary fiddle music are so deeply rooted in traditional fiddle music that the songs may be mistaken as 100-year-old tunes.
In commemoration of the Battle of Fort Sumter they helped celebrate the 150th anniversary of the re-raising of the flag last April in Charlestown, N.C. by playing their composition of Sumter Soliloquy.
Mason said, "Our shows have a certain amount of season content. We play music to the time, place and season that touches us in some way." For Saturday's concert Ungar and Mason said that in honor of the upcoming spring planting season they will perform a mix of their own compositions including much from their Harvest Home CD, some work by other contemporary composers, and a number of traditional music. Mason will sing an old favorite "Home Grown Tomatoes' plus a sneak peek of their almost finished, soon to be released CD they are producing of carefully selected healing music tunes,
Known for their wit and warmth, Mason feels the concerts are a way to introduce people to fiddle music from the immigrants to the U.S. to fiddle styles from around the world. "We love it all."
Each piece is introduced with a bit of history, where it comes from, and what it means to them while having a little fun with the audience. It is apparent they feel the music deep in their heart.
The concert will take place at the First Congregational Church, 880 Western Ave., West Brattleboro. from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $20. To learn more about them and their music, or to purchase a ticket visit www.jayandmolly.com, Tickets may also be purchased at brownpapertickets.comor Everyone's Books, 25 Elliot St., or $24 at the door. For information call 802-257-1571.
Contact Cicely M. Eastman at 802-254-2311 ext. 261.