Jay Ungar and Molly Mason

"Doing [A] Prairie Home Companion is a homecoming to a bunch of old friends," Mason said. "It's doing something we've done a lot of and enjoy. Maybe because Garrison's show is based on a community, it is easy for us to kind of plug into that feeling. I feel like we're performing for a community of people who kind of know and understand the real things."

For Ungar, becoming part of A Prairie Home Companion is about taking a journey away from the day-to-day grind of everyday.

"It does take you to a special place that is just a little different than your regular day to day life - maybe a lot different," he said. "We love the musical variety. The fact that Garrison writes all that comedy each week is incredible."

Ungar and Mason's unique and heartfelt sound has earned them accolades both far and wide. Ungar's 1982 song "Ashokan Farewell" struck such a chord with filmmaker Ken Burns that he used it in his PBS documentary on the Civil War. The song was later nominated for an Emmy and became the centerpiece of the documentary's soundtrack.

Currently, Ungar, a kid from the Bronx, and Mason, a native of Washington State, are building musical relationships with the likes of singer/songwriter Dar Williams, and prepping for performances with symphony orchestras that will later this year take them to Alaska as well as their own backyard, the Catskill mountains of New York.

Playing with the symphonies is another sort of homecoming for Ungar, who gained a taste for performing with others while performing in classical ensembles as a kid. That fondness for communicating with a musical instrument has followed Ungar through his life, whether it's been playing with an orchestra, jamming with the gang from "Dancing on the Air," or playing a few tunes with the APHC house band.

"In an ensemble, you're really communicating with each other. And there is the improvisational side of it. If everyone is listening to each other, that can really take you on a trip. These little ensembles - we all listen together. And we all create moods. It is a mood. Not just the notes."

John W. Barry is a writer living in New York's Hudson Valley. He can be contacted at jwbarry@bestweb.net.

Interview Archive

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

Available now»

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