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University turns to website, social media to rally support for ‘A Fiddler’s Holiday’ concert
VOTE: Vote for the show at special.umw.edu
BY CLINT SCHEMMER
The Free Lance-Star
Once in a great while, the planets seem to align, and good things happen.
That’s what it’s been like for the people involved with a forthcoming PBS special on 2011’s Holiday Pops Concert at the University of Mary Washington.
“For the past year and a half, we’ve gotten one yes after another,” Kevin Bartram, director of UMW’s Philharmonic Orchestra, said in an interview this week. “It’s just been amazing.”
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, PBS stations across the country will air a one-hour show, “A Fiddler’s Holiday,” fashioned from footage shot during two performances by The Jay Ungar & Molly Mason Family Band with the UMW Philharmonic last December.
The program, on which production just ended, features unusual holiday tunes with broad appeal and Appalachian roots music that will delight lovers of the acoustic sound for which the family band is famous.
The TV show highlights the Fredericksburg area’s special character and rich heritage, particularly its four Civil War battlefields. The latter subject is well-known to Ungar, whose composition “Ashokan Farewell” became the theme music for Ken Burns’ PBS blockbuster “The Civil War.”
“The program has a warm holiday feeling, without being too Christmasy,” Bartram said. “Even we get a little tired of ‘Jingle Bells’ after a while.”
Ungar said it was “fun and rewarding” for his family—his wife, Molly Mason, their daughter, Ruth Ungar Merenda, her husband, Mike Merenda, and himself—to collaborate with Bartram and the orchestra.
“Our concerts usually include a nod to the current season, and we particularly love the music that winter and the holidays calls to mind,” Ungar wrote in an e–mail.
“Molly, Ruthy, Mike and I are totally thrilled and excited that Jim Brown did such a great job of capturing the show on video and that PBS has decided to distribute ‘A Fiddler’s Holiday’ in the coming months.
Independent film producer Jim Brown, who wrote and directed the film, is equally enthusiastic. He called Ungar “one of America’s greatest fiddlers” and the UMW Philharmonic “one of the country’s best university orchestras.”
“The music celebrates the winter season, the holidays and is performed in one of the most historic towns in America,” said Brown, a New York University professor whose TV work has received three Emmy awards. “At the 150th anniversary of the battle of Fredericksburg, this concert, in its own way, brings the North and South together.”
Bartram briefed the UMW board of visitors Saturday on the PBS show, sharing a 30-second clip, and was applauded at the end of his presentation.
But now comes the hard part: Persuading more PBS affiliates that “A Fiddler’s Holiday” is worth broadcasting at a busy, and financially critical season.
PBS will provide a national feed of the program to its affiliates, but stations aren’t required to air any particular show. An air date has not been set; it could be as early as Nov. 24, Thanksgiving Day, Bartram said.
For it to be shown widely, people need to let their PBS stations know they’re interested in the program and—when it first airs during
the network’s Christmas fundraising season—to phone in their pledge to that affiliate, he said. That last action by viewers is critical for the show to earn a rating that would ensure its success, Bartram said.
To that end, the orchestra’s supporters began a grassroots effort about a week ago to spread word about the show and encourage TV-watchers to communicate with PBS.
People in Virginia, North Carolina, the D.C. metropolitan area, New York state, Kentucky and Texas are already mobilizing and talking with program managers at their local PBS affiliates, Bartram said.
There are just days left.
Most affiliates will decide by Oct. 1 which holiday shows they will air during the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas period.
The competition is fierce, and time slots are limited. Each affiliate chooses from more than a dozen new national specials, plus their own productions, Bartram said.
UMW is launching a special website http://special.umw.edu and a social-media campaign involving its 35,000 alumni and university faculty and staff, Bartram said. The site includes a video introduction to the program and contact information for the more than 300 PBS affiliates.
“Show your pride in the UMW Philharmonic, the University of Mary Washington and Fredericksburg, Virginia,” the site will urge visitors.
Whatever happens, Bartram said the PBS show would never have happened without great support from Ungar, Brown and UMW President Rick Hurley, whom he said “took a chance” on the concept.
The national College Orchestra Directors Association honored Hurley last year for his commitment to the project.
PBS will distribute a DVD of the film with bonus features introducing viewers to the Fredericksburg region, including scenes filmed in the city’s historic district, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and in Stafford and Spotsylvania counties.
Rounder Records will sell a CD of the concert. PBS viewers will be able to buy a DVD–CD package as a premium when they pledge.
UMW site: http://special.umw.edu