Jay Ungar and Molly Mason perform at Kansas State University


The lights dimmed and the chatter ceased Tuesday night inside McCain Auditorium.

The K-State Orchestra played host to Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, who specialize in folk songs and melodies.

“Are you ready to sing?” asked Ungar as he took the stage. Several occasions allowed the audience to chant along in the chorus.

Ungar did a piece titled “Backyard Symphony,” which he referred to as his “fictitious personal history.” He grew up in The Bronx, but attended K-State. Initially he studied pre-veterinary medicine with the College of Agriculture, but graduated as an anthropologist.

Mason, Ungar’s wife, accompanied him on the guitar and piano. Together with the band, they played a waltz. Jokingly, they invited the audience to dance on a section of the stage.

On the bass guitar, Bobby Scharmann walked on stage for two songs. The audience applauded the K-State orchestra member as he played his instrument alongside Ungar and Mason.

“How many have a garden out there?” asked Mason alluding to the theme of the next song. The piece focused on homegrown tomatoes.

After a song written by Stephen Foster, Ungar compared the mid 1800s to today. An economic depression of the time was followed by a civil war. He expressed his hope that such an event would not repeat itself today.

The duo has performed for three presidents of the United States, and at the concert, they played a work that has been played for each president. They closed the first half with five of the strongest songs from the Civil War.

Following the interlude, the band played a moving piece that characterized the seasons of the year. Instrumental transitions within the song indicated changes in season as it flowed from summer to fall, fall to winter, and so forth. Notably, the low bass dominated the winter part of the song while the spring featured jubilant sounds.

The musicians then introduced swing music to the audience. They remarked that Western music is the style they enjoy playing the most.

Those who are familiar with Ken Burns’ Civil War series on PBS have heard a composition titled “Ashokan Fairwell.” The piece is the theme song for the series and was composed by Ungar. They closed the concert playing the popular song.

“It was good to hear a different style,” said Julia Wallis, freshman, after the concert.

“They are the premiere duo for American folk songs,” said David Littrell, conductor of the orchestra and a university distinguished professor of music.

The orchestra has been playing since August, but had only played Ungar and Mason’s music for a day before performing Tuesday night.