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History of The Quiet Room with Jay & Molly

This is a story about the healing powers of music and people and place, and what can happen when their energies join together.

Tune in to Jay & Molly’s Quiet Room every Wednesday evening at 8:30pm est on Facebook Live.

In a real sense, the Ashokan Center in the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York gave Jay Ungar the tune now world famous as “Ashokan Farewell.” He had just concluded the 1982 summer season of Fiddle & Dance Camps at what was then the Ashokan Field Campus of the State University of New York at New Paltz.

For Ungar, it was a melancholy time, a goodbye to the community of people he had grown close to during the camps. With a sense of loss and an urge to find a melody to express his feelings and soothe his heart, he picked up his fiddle and started to play. A tune soon emerged and his eyes filled with tears.

For a time, Ungar held the tune close—it affected him too deeply to play it publicly. But eventually, he and his musical partner Molly Mason recorded it with their band Fiddle Fever. It found its way to Ken Burns, who chose it for the musical theme of his 1990 PBS series “The Civil War.” Since that time this simple melody has touched the hearts of millions around the world, whether played by street musicians or symphony orchestras.

By 1984 Mason began working with Ungar in planning the Fiddle & Dance Camps. They married in 1991 and continued performing, recording, and touring together. Then, in 2003, their world turned upside down when Mason was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was quickly scheduled for surgery.

Mason had recently created a compilation of healing melodies from Ungar & Mason CDs for a friend having serious health challenges. That very compilation would now play a crucial role in her own healing and recovery. In an article about those days Ungar wrote, “Most were our own compositions, such as ‘Ashokan Farewell’ and ‘The Lover’s Waltz.’ Each tune seemed to express what was needed: peace and calm, love and hope, all built upon a foundation of resilience.”

During Mason’s recuperation, Ungar often spent time gathering his thoughts and energy in the hospital’s Quiet Room. Alone there one day, he picked up his fiddle and a new tune came to him. He called it, “The Quiet Room.” It’s now the title track of a 14-song album based on Mason’s original healing compilation. The album cover bears the subtitle, “Music to heal the heart and soothe the soul.”

Mason’s health has been fully restored and she and Ungar have given copies of “The Quiet Room” to others facing hard situations and donated numerous copies of the CD to medical professionals during the early days of the COVID pandemic. While Ungar has sometimes dubbed his most famous song a Scottish lament by a Jewish guy from the Bronx, listeners may more often shed tears of joy.

In 2006 Ungar and Mason learned that SUNY New Paltz was on the brink of selling the Ashokan Field Campus to a potential developer. Such a sale would end both the Fiddle & Dance Camps and SUNY’s own long-standing outdoor/environmental education field trips for schools. The City of New York was also vying for the property for a channel to release turbid undrinkable water from its nearby Ashokan Reservoir. Ungar and Mason and long-time Fiddle & Dance attendees quickly formed the Ashokan Foundation, a new nonprofit designed to save this 385-acre historic nature preserve that had inspired “Ashokan Farewell.” Knowing that New York Governor George Pataki was deeply moved by “Ashokan Farewell,” Ungar and Mason wrote him for help. The Governor introduced them to the Open Space Institute and together they forged a partnership with the City to purchase and preserve the land, renamed it the Ashokan Center, and to support the cultural and educational programs going forward.

The mission of the Ashokan Center is to inspire learning and build community through shared experiences in nature, history, music, and art. School groups come for day and overnight field trips. Ashokan Music & Dance Camps, formerly Fiddle & Dance, expanded to about a dozen camps for adults and families each year. And numerous public festivals and events such as the Summer and Winter Hoots began to make the inspirational and healing magic of Ashokan available to the surrounding community and beyond.
But then in March of 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly brought things to a halt. Ungar and Mason and fellow musicians canceled upcoming concert tours and the Ashokan Center was forced to close its gates and lay off employees.

Ungar and Mason decided to try offering a weekly concert series from their home on Facebook Live. They dubbed the series “The Quiet Room” drawing its name from the tune and the hospital safe space where it was born. An online community began to emerge as viewers returned each week to listen and to chat with Ungar, Mason and one another via typed comments. Though the concerts were free, Ungar and Mason provided a donate button to help support the Ashokan Center through these trying times. Nearly four years later these weekly online concerts are still going strong and have raised nearly $150,000 for the Ashokan Center.

On Wednesday, March 27, 2024, Ungar and Mason will celebrated the fourth anniversary of The Quiet Room, having not missed a single week since the series began in 2020.

In challenging times, may the essence of Ashokan speak to you, may you count us among your people, and may soothing music smooth your path. Know that you are welcome in The Quiet Room and at the Ashokan Center.

Written by Marc Jennings

Testimonials

I think the Quiet Room made a tremendous difference to us at the beginning of the pandemic when we were all feeling isolated. At first, we connected with people whom we already knew from Ashokan, and then we made new friends, some of whom we have been lucky enough to meet in real life. – Lenora Kandiner

My most vivid memory of the Quiet Room was one of the very first sessions. The pandemic was new and scary. I was lucky enough to be able to isolate at home, but was missing friends and family. When Jay and Molly started to play, I sat on the bed and wept, for the joy of the music, and for the feeling of hope it gave me. – Katie Weiss

The Quiet Room is my calm in the mid-week. The music is wonderful and it lightens my soul and spirit. I appreciate that you always show kindness and respect for musicians and each other. You are living proof of a better way to be. I always feel better after the Quiet Room. – Teresa Spear

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