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On a spring Sunday in the Catskill Mountains, 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.
Those gathered knew the tune — and the answer. With a quilt behind them on a wall wainscoted with locally cut pine, Mr. Ungar closed his eyes and pulled his bow to sound the three ascending notes — an A, a C-sharp and a D — that have moved him since the day he wrote them.
The tune is “Ashokan Farewell,” the bittersweet lament familiar to millions as the theme song that the filmmakerKen 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.
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